LEWISTON — Bates College students returned from their February break Monday to a somber campus, thinking of the classmate who would not return.
The death of John Durkin in Rome last week is still under investigation, according to press accounts from Italy. His body was found on train tracks in a tunnel about two miles from a nightclub where he was last seen. Police say they believe he was hit by a train after falling on the tracks, probably accidentally.
Durkin’s death was a shock to the entire Bates College community, which held a candlelight vigil Sunday night on the football field where Durkin played. The school also held a private memorial service Monday afternoon for the 21-year-old junior from Rye Beach, N.H., in the atrium of Pettengill Hall on campus.
Hundreds of students flooded into the service, which lasted about 45 minutes. When they emerged from the hall, some with eyes red from crying, many linked arms as they walked toward the dining hall for dinner.
Before the memorial service, several mourned the loss of one of their own in a school with fewer than 1,800 students.
Jeffrey Jones was one of Durkin’s teammates on the Bates College football team briefly last fall. Jones suffered a concussion early in the season and left the team. He said he remembers Durkin as a leader.
“Some of the upperclassmen, they might haze the rookies. John wasn’t like that,” said Jones, 19, of Atlanta. “He was just a good guy.”
Jones said he hadn’t seen Durkin and didn’t realize he was studying abroad until he heard the news of Durkin’s death a few days ago.
“Even if you didn’t know him, everybody here kind of feels it,” Jones said. “It could have happened to any one of us.”
Durkin, an economics major, was in Rome on a study-abroad program offered jointly through Bates and Trinity College of Hartford, Conn. He was among 55 students in the program.
Durkin was out with friends at a club called Sloppy Sam’s on Wednesday night. His friends left the club about 1:30 a.m. Thursday, according to authorities, but Durkin stayed behind. His body was discovered by Italian authorities Thursday and identified by his father Saturday.
“As best that we can tell, this appears to have been an isolated incident,” Trinity College President James Jones Jr. said in a prepared statement. “Trinity is doing everything possible to help the students in Rome during this time of duress, including making counseling available to any student who desires it. Counseling also will be available to students on the Trinity campus who may have known John or who feel a need to talk about this incident.”
According to the Italian newspaper Roma Today, authorities are investigating Durkin’s death as a probable accident, saying it’s unlikely that anyone took his body to the tunnel, which is about two miles from the bar.
Authorities are still trying to determine what time he left the bar. Posts on Sloppy Sam’s Facebook page urged anyone who might have seen Durkin to contact authorities, and posts from the bar’s staff indicated that police had visited the bar on Friday seeking any information they had.
The U.S. State Department did not return a call for comment Monday. The U.S. Embassy in Rome issued a statement of condolence to Durkin’s family but had no further statements on its website about his death.
Natalie Silver, a second-year Bates student from Bennington, Vt., said she didn’t know Durkin but was extremely sad to hear the news. She said it also gave her pause. She is debating whether to spend a semester abroad, in Nepal.
“It looks like what happened to him was just an accident, but you have to be so careful,” Silver said.
Emma Smith, 19, of Cohasset, Mass., said her parents already have expressed concerns because she wants to spend a semester in Colombia.
“I didn’t know him, but I’m on the tennis team here and (athletes) are a big family,” she said. “It’s tragic.”
Alexa Adams, 19, of Williamstown, Mass., who attended Sunday night’s vigil, said Bates students have come together in the short time since they learned of Durkin’s death.
“It’s such a small school, it’s scary to think that could happen to someone from here,” she said.
Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at: