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One ISU student may have died from seizure disorder, coroner says

AllisZak 19 Schaumburg was found dead her dorm room Illinois State University Friday March 23 2012

Allison Zak, 19, of Schaumburg, was found dead in her dorm room at Illinois State University, Friday, March 23, 2012

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Updated: April 25, 2012 8:05AM



The crackling message of a police radio froze McClean County Coroner Beth Kimmerling as she prepared to move the body of a 19-year-old Illinois State University student found dead in her dorm room Thursday evening.

The lifeless body of another student, also 19, had been found in another dorm on the same block.

“It was like when you think you heard something, but your not 100 percent certain you heard what you just heard. Everyone just paused,” said Kimmerling.

But the message was confirmed, and university officials quickly sorted the facts and moved to squash speculation that the deaths of Allison C. Zak, a sophomore from Schaumburg, and John C. Stephens, a freshman from Wilmette — who were both found lying on the floor by roommates — were anything but a grim coincidence devoid of foul play, violence or third-party involvement.

Preliminary autopsy results showed Zak may have died from a seizure or stroke caused by a previously undiagnosed seizure condition or a known condition that causes brain and skull abnormalities.

The cause of Stephens’ death was less clear. “I feel very comfortable saying John’s death was not a natural process, and to clarify that, we are going to undergo toxicology tests before I make any statement,” said Kimmerling.

No illegal drugs, prescription drugs or alcohol was found in Stephens’ room, but several over-the-counter medications were recovered, said Kimmerling, who wouldn’t elaborate.

Stephens was found around midnight — nearly three hours after Zak was discovered — and seemed in a normal state of mind when he was last seen by his roommate earlier in the evening, said Kimmerling.

There’s no indication the two students knew each other.

Zak, a 2010 graduate of Conant High School in Hoffman Estates, “was the kind of person who’d give you the shirt off her back,” said her father, Michael.

She played the clarinet in her high school marching band and was a languages, literatures and cultures major. She spoke Japanese and German fluently and spoke of one day working for the State Department.

“This is a devastating loss to Allison’s mom, to me, and to her two sisters, it’s just total surprise and unfathomable pain,” said her father, who last contacted his daughter Wednesday via text seeking the translation of German words he’d found inscribed in a piece of pewter.

Stephens, a computer science major, was a 2011 graduate of New Trier High School in Winnetka who worked as a life guard for the Wilmette Park District at Gillson Beach this past summer.

“He was well liked by other employees,” said Park District chief Steve Wilson.

University President Al Bowman alerted students to the deaths early Friday via email.

Illinois State University is in Normal, which is about 133 miles southwest of Chicago.



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