Man who died of hypothermia hadn't contacted friends in months

Sunday, December 20, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CST
Nathan Curry, 30, died of hypothermia on Dec. 3 in his home in Columbia. His friends were surprised to find out he was living without heat or electricity.

COLUMBIA — In the last few months of his life, Nathan Curry secluded himself from the outside world. He did not respond to phone calls or persistent knocks at the door.

Although his friends say they were accustomed to his reclusive behavior, they agreed that it had been a quite some time since any of them had heard from him.

When Curry, 30, died Dec. 3 in his home on Ammonette Street in Columbia, he had characteristically told none of them that he was living without heat or electricity. No one even knew that he wasn't taking care of himself.

“Everyone’s reaction when they heard the news was like, ‘Are you kidding me?’” said Curry’s friend, Dan Campbell. “Someone at his wake even said that Nathan was supposed to be the guy that survived with the cockroaches after the bombs dropped.”

Curry’s friends say he needed few possessions and was ready to take off at a moment's notice. They describe him as an intelligent, unpredictable spirit.

Initially, the cause of his death was reported as hypothermia. Deputy Medical Examiner Ariel Goldschmidt said later that hypothermia might only have played a role in his death.

According to his preliminary findings, Goldschmidt said Curry suffered from acute bronchopneumonia, an infection of the airways and lung tissue. He said the investigation will continue.

On the night Curry was found, temperatures in Columbia had dropped to 24 degrees. Earlier reports indicate that his house had been without heat and electricity since Sept. 30 for nonpayment of his account.

His friend Jonathan Steffens said he had been unemployed since he left his job at Columbia Foods eight months earlier, although he had been attending classes at Columbia College as a math major.

Concerned for his well-being, Steffens began calling around in early December to see if anyone had seen or talked to Curry recently.

After finding no one had talked to him, Steffens filed a missing person's report with the Columbia Police Department at 8:30 p.m. Dec. 3.

Shortly afterward, police arrived at Curry’s home and found it completely dark. According to police spokeswoman Jessica Haden, an officer shined his light through the window and saw a person lying on the ground.

The Columbia Fire Department was then summoned to bring tools for a forced entry. They arrived at 9:38 p.m. and forced the door open two minutes later.

It was immediately apparent that Curry was dead, Haden said.

“We knew he was living off his savings,” another friend Pete Warnock said, “but he didn’t talk to us about that sort of stuff. He wasn’t the most loquacious person … I think if he was more of a talker, we would have known about what was going on.”

Nathan Curry was born in Chicago in 1979, but his family moved to Fulton, Mo. He graduated from Fulton High School. Twelve years ago, he moved here to attend Columbia College.

He stayed in Columbia, buying the house on Ammonette Street. Most of his friends were surprised when he purchased the house because it was a long-term commitment, and Curry was not one to plan ahead.

They accepted his eccentric behavior when he said possessions were unimportant to him. They only inhibited his ability to get up and leave whenever he wanted.

He slept either in a sleeping bag or on his recliner, and he never owned a car but rather walked or biked everywhere. He lived in the moment and did as he pleased. Sometimes, his friends said, he would leave without warning and disappear for a while.

“When he didn’t feel like being social, he would go on a walkabout," Warnock said. "He would drop out of sight, without contact, and we would wait for him to resurface.” 

In 1997, before beginning classes at Columbia College, he embarked on one of his longest journeys, walking to California with no apparent purpose.

“The best way I can describe it is he was like Forrest Gump when he just took off running,” Steffens said. "He would walk from county to county, working odd jobs along the way."

Curry eventually returned and enrolled in classes at Columbia College. He also found a job at Columbia Foods where he worked steadily for eight years.

When he was around, Steffens said, Curry and the rest of his friends would play fantasy games. Although he was not forthcoming about his personal life, he did like to talk about gaming.

“In one of the games we would play, we would get extra points for having back stories,” Warnock said. “He had a large imagination full of ideas for characters and story lines.

"He was more comfortable writing than talking about stuff, unless you were talking about ideas for games or characters.”

Warnock called Curry very intelligent and intolerant of fools. At certain points in his life, he ignored everyone in general.

“He kind of went in cycles where he would be very gregarious and willing to talk to people, and other times he would want to be left alone, “ Warnock said. “When he was in the ‘I don’t want to have contact with the world’ phase, we would let him be until he was ready to socialize again.

"He was at that part of the cycle, where he wasn’t making contact with people, when he died.”

When Steffens went to Curry's house to begin cleaning it out before the funeral, he noticed that most of his possessions had been boxed up, as if he were going to sell them to make some money.

“It sounded like he realized that he was getting into a low spot and was working on trying to fix it,” Campbell said. “It snuck up on him like it snuck up on all of us.”

Although there was no heat in his home, the fireplace was sealed shut, Steffens said. There were no space heaters either, just coats hanging in his closet.

His rugged, self-reliant nature might have given Curry false confidence that he could survive the cold, Steffens said. “Part of him probably thought he could handle it because, during part of his life, he had been used to it.” 

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