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Frostburg student killed in off-campus house fire

An early-morning fire swept through a rental house just off the campus of Frostburg State University on Friday, leaving a student dead and destroying the building.

University President Jonathan Gibralter wrote in an email to the campus community that Lateef Gazal, a senior business administration major from Bowie, was killed.

"We offer our deepest condolences to Lateef's family and friends, and we ask you to keep them in your thoughts and prayers and offer them support in these difficult days to come," Gibralter wrote. "I ask the University community to look out for one another as we try to come to terms with the loss of one of our cherished students."

The two-alarm fire at the two-story single-family home, which was being used as student rental housing, broke out shortly after 5 a.m. in the 100 block of Bowery St., just blocks from the university campus, the state fire marshal said. Nearly 75 firefighters from two counties responded to the scene.

Two of Gazal's housemates escaped with minor injuries, the fire marshal said, while a third housemate was not at home.

Officials with the state fire marshal's office said they likely would release more information on the cause of the fire on Sunday. Frostburg police, Frostburg State University police and Allegany County police are assisting in the investigation.

Gazal's three housemates, all students, were displaced by the fire, university officials said. They are being temporarily housed in an on-campus residence hall. The fire marshal said that the house was a "complete loss" and that the second floor collapsed.

Gazal was a member of the campus chapter of Delta Sigma Pi, the professional business fraternity, the Marketing Association and the African Student Association, according to Gibralter.

Jasmyn Bullock, a Frostburg student and a friend of Gazal's, said in an email he was a "thriving entrepreneur" who started a clothing line called Royal Crown and that his "smile filled the room."

"Lateef was a loving young man and he greeted everyone with love," Bullock said. "If you were feeling down he would just walk up to you and give you a hug. He was definitely a joy on our campus and we will miss him tremendously."

Sudhir Singh, the faculty adviser for Gazal's fraternity, said Gazal was an active member who was always coming up with fundraising ideas. He was interested in foreign cultures, had a good-humored nature and was popular among his fellow fraternity members, Singh said.

"I can't imagine a single person who would meet him and not like him," Singh said. "I think we're all in a state of shock. It's a great loss to our community."

University officials said they were working to coordinate donations for Gazal's family and for his housemates, whose belongings were destroyed. They also passed on fire safety tips to students and said those wishing to speak with university counselors can call 301-687-4234.

The fire marshal's office has not determined whether the home's smoke detector was functioning. No firefighters were injured in fighting the blaze.

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Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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