Navy probes student death at academy

Midshipman's body discovered near dorm after apparent fall

April 11, 2005|By Molly Knight | Molly Knight,SUN STAFF

The Naval Criminal Investigative Service continued yesterday to probe the death of a 21-year-old midshipman at the Naval Academy whose body was found lying outside the dormitory of the Annapolis campus about 1 p.m. Saturday.

Academy officials said that Jay Michael Dixon, a junior physics major from Destrehan, La., apparently was killed in a fall, but they declined to offer more details until the investigation is complete.

According to a statement from the school, Dixon's body was discovered outside the fourth wing of Bancroft Hall, the sprawling dormitory that houses all 4,000 midshipmen. Naval Academy emergency personnel responded within minutes of the discovery and pronounced Dixon dead at the scene.

It was the second time in three years that a midshipman was found dead outside the dormitory after a fall.

In Destrehan yesterday, friends and relatives of Dixon gathered at the home of his mother, Debrah Hentze Dixon, to mourn the loss of a young man they called intelligent and charming.

"He was a positive gift to this world," said Donna Hendley, Dixon's aunt, who declined to comment on the details of his death. "I know I probably sound like I'm saying the things any relative would, but he really was bright and upstanding."

Hendley said friends of Dixon, many of whom graduated with him from Destrehan High School, came by the house yesterday to pay their respects. "They're all here because they loved him," she said.

Dixon is survived by his mother and his younger brother, Gregory Michael Dixon. Dixon's father, J. Michael Dixon - a civil engineer in Destrehan - died last fall at age 62.

The news spread quickly among students at the academy, many of whom called their families to share their sadness.

"We didn't know the Dixons, but we're in shock because everyone who has a child at the academy is like family," said Cindi McElheny of Baton Rouge, La., whose son, Aric, is a junior midshipman.

In a written statement issued yesterday, Vice Adm. Rodney P. Rempt, the Naval Academy superintendent, said: "Midshipman Dixon's loss is a terrible tragedy for the Brigade of Midshipmen and our Naval Academy family. A fine young man with a bright future as a naval officer, he was a member of the Society of Physics Students and the Naval Academy's radio station. A proud member of the Academy's 20th Company, he was well-liked and admired by all those who knew him. Our deepest sympathies and heartfelt condolences go out to Midshipman Dixon's family and friends."

The news that a fall might have killed Dixon reminded many at the academy of the last time a midshipman died on the yard. In 2002, 20-year-old John Paul Ruggiero, an aerospace engineering major from Gouldsboro, Pa., died in a fall from the fourth-floor window of his room in Bancroft Hall. Investigators ruled Ruggiero's death an accident after learning he'd been out drinking with friends on the night of his fall.

Academy officials said it could take days for the investigation of Dixon's death to be completed.

A Naval Academy memorial service for Dixon has not yet been scheduled.

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