Authorities identify Towson student who died this weekend

The Towson University student who died over the weekend after being found unresponsive at an off-campus apartment was a talented artist who made a difficult decision to attend a different college than her twin sister, according to her high school counselor.

Baltimore County police said Monday they were investigating the circumstances that led to the death of 18-year-old Julia Margaret Ratnaraj, a freshman from Sewell, N.J., outside Philadelphia.

Emergency responders were called to an apartment on the 300 block of E. Joppa Road about 11:30 p.m. Saturday for a report of an overdose, according to a police report. Ratnaraj was taken to University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center, where she was later pronounced dead.

Witnesses told police Ratnaraj had been drinking alcohol, but the state medical examiner's office said the cause of her death remains under investigation.

"I'm heartbroken," said Sheryl Wescott, a counselor at Washington Township High School in New Jersey, where Ratnaraj graduated in June.

"She applied to many schools, and Towson was her No. 1 pick," Wescott said. "I think she was really just happy to be there."

She described Ratnaraj as a "very, very sweet young lady" and an honor-roll student. She took advanced art classes and was interested in forensic science, Wescott said. Ratnaraj studied French in high school and was a member of the French club, she added.

Wescott said Ratnaraj has a twin sister who attends Fordham University in New York.

"It was hard enough for them to decide to go to different colleges, let alone for this to happen," Wescott said.

Family members could not be reached for comment.

Police said they interviewed three women — two 19-year-olds and an 18-year-old — who were at the apartment that night. According to the report, police were told Ratnaraj had not consumed illegal drugs but had been drinking alcohol before she arrived there, and had smoked tobacco from a hookah, a water pipe often used for communal smoking. The witnesses told police they did not know how much alcohol Ratnaraj had consumed, according to the report.

Police are conducting additional interviews to determine where Ratnaraj obtained alcohol and to "get a better overall picture of all those events that led up to the tragedy," said Cpl. John Wachter, a county police spokesman.

Last month, the Maryland Collaborative to Reduce College Drinking and Related Problems — a coalition of 10 college and university presidents from across the state — released results of a survey showing that nearly half of Maryland college students engaged in binge-drinking at least once during the past month they were surveyed.

Two-thirds of students who drink said they do so at off-campus parties, and one-fifth said they attend happy hours at off-campus bars, according to the survey.

Towson was in the news last fall after members of its cheerleading team were suspended for participating in alcohol-related hazing.

Most new students only have been at Towson for a few weeks. Freshmen moved into their dorms the weekend of Aug. 23, and classes began Aug. 27.

Drug and alcohol awareness education is included in freshman orientation, university spokeswoman Gay Pinder said. Grief counseling was available at the university health center, she said.

Baltimore County police and fire departments had said Sunday they had not fielded calls related to an incident involving a Towson student, but Wachter said Monday that statement was the result of a miscommunication within the department.

Baltimore Sun reporters Ian Duncan and Justin George contributed to this article.

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