Royal Oak High School grad’s death ruled accidental

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published February 8, 2021

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ROYAL OAK — A runner discovered the body of Grand Valley State University student and 2020 Royal Oak High School graduate Taylor DeRosa, 18, near the university’s intramural athletic fields the morning of Dec. 12, 2020.

The Ottawa County Medical Examiner’s Office recently ruled DeRosa’s death “accidental,” despite law enforcement initially describing her death as “suspicious.” The cause of death was hypothermia, with alcohol as a contributing factor.

Police said there was no identification with the body and that, when DeRosa’s body was identified, her family asked the university to release her name.

“We now have answers in the death last month of our student, Taylor DeRosa,” GVSU President Philomena V. Mantella said in a written statement to the campus community. “Taylor’s death is a terrible tragedy for her family and all those close to her. We know her fellow students, as well as faculty and staff, have been affected. We are a caring community and our hearts go out to all who knew and loved Taylor. We respect their need to grieve and honor Taylor’s memory.”

Mantella said that, while COVID-19 restrictions mandate the need for physical space between individuals, the university community should work to stay emotionally connected as it grieves the loss of “a promising young woman.”

Brandon DeHaan, director of public safety and chief of police at GVSU, reinforced his earlier statements that “there was never, and is not now, any safety risk to the campus associated with this sad event,” Mantella said.

More than 2,000 donors contributed to a GoFundMe crowdfunding campaign for funeral costs and time off work organized by close family friend Gina Mollencopf, of Royal Oak. As of press time, the total had reached $69,821 — surpassing the original $50,000 goal.

According to the GoFundMe site, DeRosa was a freshman majoring in international business and minoring in French. She attended Camp Nissokone in Oscoda since she was 11 and served as a counselor for several years, and in high school, participated in lacrosse, Interact Club, Spirit Club and the Diploma Programme.

“Taylor lived a passionate, involved life as an advocate for gun control, Black Lives Matter, women’s rights and a host of other organizations and movements that supported human equality, fairness and truth,” Mollencopf wrote. “Taylor’s smile was illuminating, and her warmth, friendliness and humor brought joy to everyone who knew her.”

Mollencopf said that DeRosa’s mother, Carolyn, raised her daughter by herself and worked two jobs to “provide her the perfect life she deserved.”

“They were the best of friends and FaceTimed or spoke every day. Carolyn was very involved in Taylor’s life, and many of Taylor’s friends considered her as a second mother,” she wrote. “We lost our beautiful, strong, courageous, smart and sweet Taylor far too soon.”

Mollencopf added that any excess money raised would be donated to a “fund near to Taylor’s heart.”

On Dec. 16, GVSU students organized a socially distanced candlelight vigil that attracted more than 100 people, including friends and family.

According to the autopsy report, DeRosa’s body was located on the west side of the lacrosse stadium on a cement slab next to an equipment building.

A security camera observed DeRosa getting out of a vehicle on campus at 2:38 a.m. Dec. 12, and another security camera observed her on the ground at the location of her discovery at 7 a.m. According to the report, the outdoor temperature was in the 30s during that night and it was raining during the morning.

DeRosa reportedly was at a party with friends and was the first to get dropped off by a designated driver, according to the autopsy report. The investigation by GVSU police and the Michigan State Police using surveillance video revealed she was “stumbling/falling on the ground and there was no evidence of any other person near the deceased,” according to the report.

DeRosa’s blood alcohol content was 0.24% and her body displayed multiple abrasions and contusions, according to the autopsy report.

For support, contact the crisis line by texting “HOME” to 741741, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255, or call New Oakland Family Centers’ 24-hour emergency hotline at (877) 800-1650.

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