GVSU mourns student who 'lived passionate, involved life as advocate'

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News
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Dozens of mourners gathered Wednesday for a candlelight vigil at Grand Valley State University honoring a student from Royal Oak found dead on campus last weekend.

Socially distanced as university officials requested, the attendees stood solemnly beneath Cook Carillon Tower and bare trees decorated in blue and white lights as temperatures dipped below freezing. 

They bowed their heads to remember 18-year-old Taylor DeRosa, who was in her first year at the school on Michigan's west side.

A candlelight vigil honoring Taylor DeRosa, who was a first-year Grand Valley State University student from Royal Oak, is held at Cook Carillon Tower on the GVSU campus on Wednesday. DeRosa's body was found in the intramural fields and cross country trail at the Allendale campus.

"I definitely feel very sorry for the family, and to lose a member of the Laker family just kind of hits close to home," said Bryce Thomas, a GVSU junior from Alpena who attended the vigil Wednesday night.

University police and the Ottawa County Sheriff's Office have been investigating her death, calling it "suspicious." Her body was found Saturday in the intramural fields and cross-country trail on campus.

GVSU President Philomena Mantella has said DeRosa started attending this fall semester.

A memorial with flowers, candles and personal notes for Taylor DeRosa lie at the foot of the Cook Carillon Clock Tower at GVSU. A candlelight vigil honoring Taylor DeRosa, the first year Grand Valley State University student from Royal Oak.
Taylor DeRosa's body was found in the intramural fields and cross country trail at the Allendale campus last week.

DeRosa was majoring in international business with a minor in French at GVSU, and "her warmth, friendliness and humor brought joy to everyone who knew her," according to a GoFundMe page organized by Gina Mollencopf of Royal Oak to pay for memorial expenses.

"Taylor lived a passionate, involved life as an advocate for gun control, Black Lives Matter, women’s rights and a host of other organizations and movements that supported human equality, fairness and truth," wrote Mollencopf, who identified herself as a close friend of Taylor's mother. 

In a Facebook post before Wednesday's vigil, U.S. Rep. Andy Levin, D-Bloomfield Township, described the teen as dedicated to activism.

Taylor DeRosa

"I am having a hard time accepting that Taylor DeRosa’s life has been cut so very short. Taylor was a huge splash of sunshine in an unjust world," he wrote. "Her commitment to change was so convincing – you knew the world would change at least a little because Taylor was present, fighting for sensible gun reform, for everyone to see and cherish Black lives, to empower women and girls. I felt that frankly strong, joyful, intelligent women would gain their rightful place at all manner of tables of power because, well, Taylor would show the way."

Levin said he first met the teen during his first run for Congress in 2018, "sitting with her and other Students Demand Action organizers to hear their plans, watching her speak to John Lewis at the private meeting I organized for the students.  Taylor made me feel that every minute we invest in our young people is time well spent. I feel that way even now, as my heart continues to break over her loss."

Mollencopf wrote that DeRosa was active in many activities, including attending YMCA Camp Nissokone in Oscoda since age 11 and serving as a counselor there for several years. DeRosa was also on the Royal Oak High School lacrosse team.

"Taylor’s mother, Carolyn (Cara), a single mother who raised Taylor by herself since she was born, worked seven days a week at two different jobs to provide her the perfect life she deserved," wrote Mollencopf. "They were the best of friends and FaceTimed or spoke every day." 

By Wednesday night, the GoFundMe effort had raised more than $62,000 in donations, topping the $50,000 goal.

"There are truly no words for this kind of loss," Julie Burkeen, a GVSU graduate and parent who donated to the effort, wrote in a post on the site Wednesday.

Another donor, Audrey Bulow, a fellow freshman at the school, said DeRosa inspired others with "her passion and motivation to make the world a better place at such a young age. For me, her memorial will be a reminder to carry on what Taylor started. To not let what she poured her soul into be forgotten; that her influence will not discontinue, and that her fire and passion will not died."

Donor Elizabeth Steinkampf called DeRosa "the heart and soul" of the Royal Oak High School girls' lacrosse program. "Her endless commitment, outstanding leadership and constant positive attitude left a lasting impact on all players and coaches alike," she wrote. "Our hearts are broken for this devastating loss, but we will carry Taylor's incredible spirit and bright smile with us for seasons to come."

A candlelight vigil honoring Taylor DeRosa, the first year Grand Valley State University student from Royal Oak, is held at Cook Carillon Tower on the GVSU campus on Wednesday, December 16, 2020. DeRosa's body was found in the intramural fields and cross country trail at the Allendale campus.

In a statement from the university Tuesday, Brandon DeHaan, director of GVSU public safety and chief of police, said it appears that the general public or campus population was not in danger. 

Reached Wednesday, Dottie Barnes, a spokeswoman for GVSU, said "there are no updates today" from its Police Department.

Ottawa County Sheriff's Capt. Mark Bennett said the office continues to assist the university police and the investigation is ongoing.

Michigan State Police also was assisting in the investigation. Anyone with any information is asked to contact the Grand Valley State University Police Department at (616) 331-3255 or Silent Observer at (877) 887-4536.

Freelance journalist Chris duMond contributed to this report.

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