A freshman at the University of Iowa froze to death this week after being found unconscious behind a building at the school.
Gerald Belz, 18, was found close to his dorm room on Wednesday morning and died later at a hospital. According to The New York Times, investigators believe Belz’s death was caused by the record-setting subzero temperatures encompassing Iowa and the rest of the Midwest this week.
University of Iowa police told the publication that while their investigation was ongoing, Belz’s “death was believed to be related to the weather.”
Classes at the university had been canceled due to the “extreme weather” from 5 p.m. Tuesday through 12 p.m. Thursday.
Belz, a rugby player who was on his high school football team, is one of a rising number of people whose deaths have been linked to the weather in the last few days. Upon his death, the university issued a statement encouraging grieving students to seek counseling services: “We are saddened to share we’ve lost a member of the Hawkeye family. Our thoughts are with his family, friends, and loved ones. We encourage our students to reach out if they are in need of support.”
The polar vortex plaguing much of the country sent temperatures at the university down to minus 21 degrees, with the windchill being as low as minus 51 degrees. In minus 50 degrees, hypothermia can start to occur in as little as five minutes if skin is exposed or clothing is insufficient.
Belz had been at his parents’ home in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Sunday and then returned to school, the Times reported. He called his mother that night to tell her he had arrived at his dorm safely. The pre-med student also spoke to his girlfriend in the hours before his death and told her he was heading to bed.
His father, Michael Belz, told local news station KCRG that his son was a “compassionate person.”
“I want people to remember him as a compassionate person,” the elder Belz said. “He had many more friends than I was aware of.”
Belz’s high school football team tweeted a message about the teenager:
The National Weather Service has been providing updated information on the shifting temperatures and conditions and how to prepare for the weather as the cold continues. For more information, you can visit their site here.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated when Belz last visited his home He was there on Sunday before heading back to his school.