Members of the Stephens College community gathered Friday in Searcy Hall to grieve and remember their friend and fellow student, Melissa Howland.
Howland, 18, was killed in a car crash at 4:40 p.m. Thursday on Route WW just east of Columbia’s city limits. Howland was a freshman majoring in English at Stephens. Friends said that because she was a member of a close-knit living-learning community in Searcy Hall, her death had a major impact on people she’d known for only a few months.
“Most here are first-year students, and a lot of them haven’t had to deal with grief like this before,” Amy Marion, Searcy Hall resident director, said.
Stephens College, with an enrollment of less than 800 students, reacted to Howland’s death quickly. A mass e-mail informing students of her death was sent Friday morning, and grief sessions were held later: one at 5:30 p.m. for those in her residence hall and one at 6 p.m. for the student body. A psychologist, the dean of students and the director of residence life were on hand to help students cope with the tragedy.
“I think it’s still sinking in for most residents,” Marion said, “but they are doing all right.”
According to the Missouri State Highway Patrol, Howland’s Ford Ranger pickup truck crossed the center line and collided head-on with a Chevy pickup driven by Stephen Cornelison, 27, also of Columbia. Cornelison, who was admitted to University Hospital at the time of the accident, was listed in fair condition Saturday night.
Howland died from a blunt impact to the head and neck, said Dori Burke, death investigator for the Boone County Medical Examiner’s office. According to a Highway Patrol report, Howland was wearing a seatbelt, while Cornelison was not.
Police said the road was dry Thursday.
Assistant Boone County Fire Chief Ken Hines said firefighters are often responding to accidents along Route WW, which he described as a heavily traveled road.
“We’ve had a number of accidents in that area before that have been severe,” Hines said.