Death of Mid called 'a complete mystery'

The Baltimore Sun

Midshipman Kristen Dickmann called her mother Sunday night, reminding her to pack the student's belongings for a Naval Academy training cruise.

She joked with her older sister Cassie in an online chat Monday morning, then lay down for a nap in her Bancroft Hall dormitory room. Hours later, two roommates found the 19-year-old Pennsylvania native unconscious and not breathing in her bed, according to members of her family.

Dickmann was later pronounced dead at an area hospital, leaving her family struggling yesterday to understand how a popular women's volleyball player who aspired to be a Navy pilot could die so suddenly.

"It's a complete mystery," Douglas Dickmann, her father, said yesterday by phone from his home in Avondale, Pa. "She was in excellent health. We know of no conditions that led up to this."

In a statement yesterday evening, the academy confirmed Dickmann's death and said that the cause was being investigated. Foul play is not suspected. The family was awaiting autopsy results yesterday.

Dickmann's parents said their daughter strictly adhered to academy rules against alcohol and drug use.

Carrie Dickmann said she learned of her daughter's death about 3 p.m. Monday in an e-mail from the parent of one of Dickmann's teammates on the academy's volleyball team. The e-mail expressed condolences for the family's loss, Carrie Dickmann said.

The mother said she frantically called her daughter's cell phone and then officials at the academy, who confirmed her daughter's death and said the Annapolis military college was sending a casualty assistance officer to her house. The officer arrived about 7 p.m. Monday, Carrie Dickmann said.

"The Navy said they prefer to tell parents in person," she said.

Dickmann said her daughter was in a playful mood on the phone Sunday night. "She was laughing, joking around," she said. "She had finished up a hard day Saturday with three finals and standing watch."

She was scheduled to take her last exam this afternoon before boarding an academy cruise with other midshipmen tomorrow. She had planned to have dinner with her mother in Annapolis tonight.

Kristen Dickmann spent most of her childhood in Kentucky and graduated from Unionville High School in Kennett Square, Pa., about 40 miles west of Philadelphia, where she was a star volleyball player.

The daughter and granddaughter of Air Force veterans, she wanted to become a Navy pilot, her mother said.

"She said she wanted to be the Navy's mailman," Carrie Dickmann said.

At the Naval Academy, she smiled so much that she was made to stand against a wall with gummy bears on her nose, forcing her to balance them without smiling, her mother said.

"That was the only thing they criticized her for," Carrie Dickmann said. "They said her military bearing was lacking, because she always smiled."

She had recently declared a major in physics, the academy said.

"Kristen was unique and brilliant, with a terrific sense of humor," said Lt. Misty Odom, the 21st Company officer at the academy, according to a statement released yesterday by the college. "She would often say, 'Math equals life' and would actually do differential equations just for fun."

James Fulginiti, principal of Unionville High School, recalled watching Dickmann's volleyball games.

"In tight situations, she was the cool one - cool and collected," he said. "Their eyes would go to her - other teammates'. She would send a message that didn't have to be spoken with words."

Douglas Dickmann, a commercial airline pilot, called his daughter "a dream come true." She never got into trouble, and she was a "quiet leader" on and off the volleyball court, he said.

"When you create a mold for a Naval Academy young lady," he said, "you might as well just start with her."

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