Nearly three months later, the distinct personality of a beloved student is still fresh in the minds of those closest to him.
Andre Narcisse ’12 was honored in a memorial service in Battell Chapel on Sunday evening. Though the results of toxicology reports indicating Narcisse’s cause of death are still pending, Yale students, residential college deans, administrators and members of Narcisse’s family gathered to share lighthearted memories of Narcisse and reflections on the grieving process.
In his opening remarks, Branford College Master Steven Smith said Narcisse’s death has made the Yale community more aware of the fragility of life. He added that he hoped the service would celebrate the meaning of Narcisse’s life.
“Every life is a story,” Smith said. “His memory is a blessing.”
The audience, which filled about a third of the chapel’s pews, listened as six of Narcisse’s friends — Chloe Zale ’12, Jonah Quinn ’12, Kyle Alpern ’12, Hope Kronman ’12, Louis Ward ’12 and Mike Liuzzi ’12 — each described the late student’s vivacity, inquisitiveness and supportive friendship.
Alpern described the long discussions he and Quinn enjoyed with Narcisse. Alpern said his friend was always ready to share a new discovery; when others had gone to sleep, Narcisse would return to his room to contemplate and think, Alpern added. The speeches described Narcisse as widely knowledgeable, with an informed opinion about everything from physics to poetry.
“It was no wonder to me that he never got tired,” Alpern said. “There was so much left to discuss.”
But most of all, the students remembered Narcisse as a tireless friend. Ward explained that when Narcisse asked friends about their thoughts or activities, he was not just trying to make conversation — he genuinely wanted to be present in his peers’ lives, his friends said Sunday. Kronman said Narcisse would get excited by her own excitement and that he was the “portrait of a good friend.”
“No one loved like Andre loved,” Quinn said.
Songs bookended the student remarks. Zale, accompanied on piano by Ari Livne ’12, sang Gabriel Fauré’s “Clair de Lune,” and Henry Grabar Sage ’12, accompanied on piano by Sam Lee ’12, performed LCD Soundsystem’s “All My Friends,” a song Grabar Sage said Narcisse had been listening to “non-stop” the week before he died.
Though the service largely focused on Narcisse’s role as a friend, Robert Thompson, a minister from Narcisse’s high school, Phillips Exeter Academy, recounted the student’s scholarly reputation. Thompson said Narcisse, widely respected for his discipline and ability to prioritize, stood out for his comprehension in an upper-level philosophy course during his junior year in high school. At the same time, Narcisse was quick to listen to his peers and incorporate their views into a classroom discussion.
“He had the gift of generosity,” Thompson said, adding that he was not surprised to hear that Narcisse often debated philosophical points in his spare time while at Yale.
There was no mention at the service, which was planned by University Chaplain Sharon Kugler and more than 20 of Narcisse’s friends, of the circumstances surrounding Narcisse’s death. In an interview, Kugler said part of the reason she scheduled the memorial service so long after the funeral was that she thought a cause of death would be available in December. Scheduling considerations, like last week’s Martin Luther King Day service, also delayed the event.
Narcisse’s roommates found Narcisse unresponsive the morning of Nov. 1 in his common room. The Connecticut State Medical Examiner’s Office in Farmington, Conn., said in November and December toxicology tests to determine the cause of his death could take as long as six to eight weeks. After the eight weeks passed, in December, representatives at the office changed the estimate to eight to 12 weeks.
Now, 85 days after Narcisse’s death, state officials still have not publicly released Narcisse’s cause of death.
John Sinard, vice-chairman of the state’s Committee on Medicolegal Investigations, which oversees the examiner’s office, said 90 percent of cases are resolved within 90 days. But, he said, it is not unusual for results to take up to 90 days because of staffing issues, other priorities or the complexities of the toxicology process. Sinard also noted that the recent retirement of the director of the toxicology department has left the deputy director position vacant, which may have led to backups.
“It’s not like it is on TV,” he said. “It’s a long process where you have to do general screening, then look more for specific causes. If you’re not looking for something, you’re not going to find it.”
Forensic security consultant and retired New Orleans police detective Larry Williams Sr. said the lack of results could mean investigators are doing more sophisticated screening for less common substances. The medical examiner would first test for more widely used substances like alcohol, oxycodone, marijuana and cocaine and then do further tests if they were still unable to determine a cause of death.
Retired FBI agent Brad Garrett said lack of sufficient staffing and lower priority could cause a delay. He said investigators return results more quickly when they are pressured by police and prosecutors to produce the evidence necessary for a criminal case.
“When there’s no foul play suspected, there’s no prosecutor or pressure and things could take a little longer,” Garrett said.
Looking beyond the circumstances of his death, speakers at the memorial encouraged the community both to remember Narcisse and to live in his image by reaching out to others and constantly trying to learn. Narcisse’s friend Liuzzi encouraged the congregation to focus on family. In attendance were Narcisse’s parents, his sister and his uncle, Kugler said.
After the remarks and the songs, including a congregation-wide rendition of Paul Simon’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” Kugler concluded the service by inviting the congregation to create a “blanket of light” in an effort to dispel the “darkness that’s invaded our spiritual walls.” Amid quiet sobs, community members shuffled through the aisles to light tea candles placed on a table at the front of the chapel.
Kugler said Narcisse’s death is the first personal loss many of the young people in attendance have felt, but that while those closest to Narcisse now know what it means to grieve, they also know what it means to heal.
“Our hearts will continue to beat,” she said.