Jonathan Lacina, 21, was last seen leaving a gathering at the Stanton Heights apartments at 300 Stanton Ave. in Ames, Iowa at approximately 9:30 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 22. Lacina's father reported him missing on the morning of Jan. 30. A check of his cell phone and bank records indicates he hasn't used either accounts since his disappearance.
Lacina was a senior graphics design student at Iowa State University in Ames. He was living in Buchanan Residence Hall, just two-and-a-half blocks from where he was last seen.
Law enforcement officials said there was no indication that Lacina would want to leave the area or that he would harm himself. There is also no indication of foul play. His parents added that he was not a risk taker.
A large scale and exhaustive search was launched for Lacina without results. His body was recovered nearly three months later in an old dairy farm building belonging to the college.
A large-scale and exhaustive search effort was launched for Lacina. According to the Des Moines News, "rescue crews searched the grounds in the area between Campustown and Lacina's home at Buchanan Hall on the south side of the campus." The two-block area between Lacina's dormitory, Buchanan Hall, at Lincoln Way and Ash Avenue, and 300 Stanton Avenue was searched extensively.
Department of Public Safety Director Jerry Stewart later told the Iowa State Daily that "there was a primary search area that police focused on after they determined, through interviews with friends and family, what they thought would be logical places for Lacina to go." This search area, according to the paper was "a quasi-rectangle spanning from Ontario Street and 13th Street to University Boulevard and Squaw Creek, as well as the College of Veterinary Medicine building to the south and then west along Mortensen Road, as well as west of State Avenue. Stewart described these areas as including places that Lacina frequented, such as Buchanan Hall, apartments of his friends, his parked car in the Jack Trice Stadium and the College of Design Building. While it couldn’t be excluded that he may have wandered farther, Stewart said that after consulting with Star 1 Search and Rescue they were encouraged to identify a reasonable area and use trained personnel to search it."
The public's help was also enlisted. Iowa State University President Geoffroy asked "all students, faculty and staff be attentive to the extensive activities that are taking place on campus and in surrounding areas of Ames. If you see something unusual or suspicious, or find articles of clothing or personal items, don't disturb them." Fraternity and sorority house members were asked to check their houses. University staff members were asked to check the campus residence halls, apartments, mechanical and maintenance rooms, storage rooms, elevator shafts, steam tunnels, garages and sheds. Stewart told the Des Moines News that other areas, such as "some remote areas, wooded locations, creek beds, snow piles and just areas that are off the beaten path," were also being searched. Two area parks, Brookside and Stuart Park, were also searched by The Department of Parks and Recreation at the request of the police.
ISU police requested helicopter assistance and dive teams searched local waterways, such as Lake LaVerne on the university's campus. And on Feb.1, search and rescue dogs were called to conduct a search on campus for the fourth time. Police hoped to catch a trace of Lacina's scent despite the fresh snowfall.
While the search was underway, investigators began examining "electronic equipment, access log records, phone information, etc." and conducting "interviews of family members, friends and acquaintances," Stewart also told the Des Moines News.
Early on it was reported that the list of those assisting in the search for Jon Lacina included: ISU Police, Ames Police, the Story County Sheriff's Office, Story County Emergency Management, the Iowa State Patrol, the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, STAR 1 Search and Rescue and Mercy One Helicopter, and over a hundred volunteers. In fact, so mmany expressed interest in joining the search for Lacina that at one point Stewart told the Des Moines News, "We appreciate the early offers of help, and ask that any potential volunteers stay available -- but we have adequate resources at this time."
Jon Lacina found
On April 14, the body of Jon Lacina was found just south of campus inside the Dairy Pavilion, belonging to Iowa State University in a remote area southwest of the intersection of Mortensen Road and Hayward Avenue. An ISU police officer found the body while searching the brick building at around 8:30 p.m. The site is approximately one mile south of Central Campus, in the opposite direction of his home where he was thought to be headed. A cause of death could not be immediately determined. The Lacina family was informed of the identity the following day.
On April 21, 2010, the Iowa State Daily reported that questions remained about how Lacina got to such an isolated location and why he hadn't been located sooner. Department of Public Safety Director Jerry Stewart responded that the Dairy Pavillion, along with the surrounding grounds of the old ISU Dairy Farm, had been searched in early February, but the boiler room where Lacina was found was not accessible from inside the building and was not searched. He explained that the room was about 4 feet below ground from the rest of the building. Heavy snow fall occurred around the time Lacina went missing, and snow drifts obscured the only door and windows to the room. Stewart could not say whether officers knew the boiler room, which was used mostly for storage, was there. (Iowa State Daily, 04/20/10).
On June 30, 2010, the state medical examiner's office announced their findings that Jonathan Lacina died of probable hypothermia with sharp-force injuries. The death was ruled an accident. According to KCCI.com, "there was no evidence of foul play, weapon-related injuries or blunt force trauma," and the medical examiner's office consulted with several forensic experts in determining the final cause and manner of death. The findings were consistent with the police investigation which indicated that foul play was not involved.
Tom Lacina, Jon's father, told the Des Moines Register, he believed his son's death was a tragic accident. "[Lacina] said his son probably fell down a “dark and likely snow-covered set of steps,” and cut his hands on a glass window in the door. His body or head likely collided with the door, knocking him unconscious in freezing temperatures, he said." (DesMoines Register, 06/30/10).
Our thoughts and prayers go out to Jon Lacina, his family, friends, and all those who joined in the search effort.
Remembering Jon Lacina
A red oak tree was planted on the Iowa State University campus on April 18, 2010 to commorate the life of Jon Lacina. More than 125 people attended the ceremony. Lacina, a graphics design major, has been described as an amazing friend, a hard-working student and a talented artist. He was known for his bright, friendly smile and his zest for life, which included a passion for art, music, nature, Legos, video games and great food. Jon's father, Tom Lacina, spoke at the service and described the delight his son brought to the Lacina family and to all who knew him. He also said, "The last two hours or three hours of his life doesn't define 21 years," he said. "So what everybody should take away is, is what they shared with him while he was living life fully." (KCCI.com, 4/18/10). The quiet and sensible artist and musician who had a pleasant wit and an easy smile, is the Jon Lacina people should remember.
A memorial Mass was celebrated at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Grinnell on April 23, followed by a public luncheon with the family.
On August 3, Jon's parents, Tom and Alesia Lacina, published the following statement on KCCI8.com to provide some additional answers in their son's death and, more importantly, to turn the focus of the public's attention back onto the remarkable life he led:
August 3 - Open letter from Tom and Alesia Lacina as to the death of Jon Lacina
Since the June 30 State Medical Examiner’s press release and our statement at the same time about our son, Jon, we have received many questions from people seeking a better understanding about Jon’s death and why foul play was not suspected. We have just recently received the actual autopsy report, which is confidential. We have decided voluntarily to provide a few more facts in this open letter in order to give greater peace to Jon’s friends and concerned individuals.
Jon went to a video game gathering the evening of January 22, played games, drank some alcohol, and left about 9:30 p.m. to go to his room about two blocks away. His friends described him as upbeat and not highly intoxicated when leaving. At about 11:00 p.m., Jon made an incomplete cell phone call from the area west of his dorm. The call was to a friend who wasn’t at the video game gathering. There is no way of knowing the significance of that call, although it is believed to have occurred from a different area than the building where his body was found. Jon’s body was found on April 14 in the half-basement boiler room of the unheated dairy pavilion building south of the main campus.
The investigation of the dairy pavilion location and the autopsy of Jon’s body suggest Jon fell down the few, likely snow- covered and dark steps into the door and cut his hands on the glass in the door. Jon’s shoes were often loosely tied and were found on the steps, suggesting a fall forward out of his shoes. The force of the impact opened the unlocked door. He was able to stand up and walk around some in the unlit building, but soon lay down at the location in the boiler room where he drifted into unconsciousness and eventually died. No drugs were present in Jon’s system other than alcohol, which was calculated at the time of death at an average below the legal limit. There was blood loss from the cuts, but the amount is unknown. Jon suffered from occasional migraines. Rarely, they could disorient him and blur his vision.
The distance to the dairy pavilion was an easy mile walk from Jon’s dorm, mostly on sidewalk. The temperature during the day and night of January 22 and all day January 23 never dropped below freezing, although it was on occasion quite foggy and windy. Jon had no coat on, and all his coats appear to be accounted for in his room and back pack. Jon would often wear the minimum amount of clothing needed for the temperature outside. Jon had lived at an ISU dorm very near the dairy pavilion the prior school year and knew the general area very well. Jon liked to go on walks and would do so even at night.
Based on these known facts, there is no way of concluding with certainty why or even when that weekend Jon ended up at the dairy pavilion. He could have become confused and lost because of alcohol or a migraine or both, or he could have just gone on a random walk for pleasure, headed behind the farm building to its hidden, unlit side for any one of a variety of reasons and experienced the accidental fall and resulting complications. Because of the distance and other factors, we tend to believe the latter occurred, or perhaps some combination of both. We’ll never know for certain.
The Office of the State Medical Examiner found Jon’s death to be accidental and to involve hypothermia as a significant factor. There was no evidence of foul play or anyone harming Jon. The findings of the autopsy are consistent with the police investigation. Beyond that, it is not possible to determine which factors—hypothermia, blood loss, alcohol, the impact from the fall down the steps, and a possible migraine—played what role in the events leading up to his death and the death itself.
The possible lessons are simple--buddy-up, drink in moderation if you drink, carry a well-charged cell phone with good batteries, and know your physical limitations. After taking reasonable precautions, however, we maintain living life fully is best. Life is precarious, and living every day fully is not just foolish optimism; it is a recognition all of us share the same end no matter what, and not living fully is at best laziness or fear or at worst a denial and a form of disrespect to those, older and younger, who have worked to enrich our lives. These may seem like strong words. They are the words of grieving parents trying to lean into the pain so as to continue moving forward day to day. We believe they express a truth about what it means to truly live, and certainly how we should live to honor our son, Jon.
We hope this statement provides some additional closure and shows how Jon’s death occurred at the dairy pavilion from various contributing factors without foul play being involved. We intend not to issue any further statements about Jon’s death but rather to focus our energy on nurturing our fond memories of him and living so as to show respect for how Jon enriched our lives.
Memorial donations can be made to the Jon Lacina Arts Fund at the Grinnell Area Arts Council, P.O. Box 657 in Grinnell, 50112.
Name/age: Jonathan Francis Lacina, 21
School: Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa
Major: Graphics Design (senior)
Hometown: Grinnell, IA
Last seen: 01/22/10, 9:30 p.m., 300 Stanton Ave., Ames, IA
Recovered: 04/18/10, 8:30 p.m., ISU Dairy Pavillion, Ames, IA
Physical Description: 5'11", 155 pounds, brown hair, green eyes, last seen wearing a black coat and blue jeans
Investigating Agency: ISU police (515) 294-4428 or Ames Police at (515) 239-5133.
Originally Published: 2/1/10.
Updates: 4/15/10, 4/18/10, 4/26/10, 7/7/10, 8/10/10.
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