Sheriff: JMU softball star’s death an apparent suicide

HARRISONBURG, Va. (AP) — The death of a James Madison softball star has been classified as an apparent suicide, but Rockingham County Sheriff Bryan Hutcheson said Wednesday that an investigation into the death is continuing.

School president Jonathan Alger and athletic director Jeff Bourne announced the death of 20-year-old Lauren Bernett, a sophomore catcher and cleanup hitter for the Dukes, in a news release Tuesday. They provided no details.

“The official report from the medical examiner’s office is pending, and out of respect for her family and friends, there is no other information to release at this time,” Hutcheson said in an email.

The announcement of Bernett’s death came a day after she was named the CAA player of the week for batting .778 with seven RBIs and four runs in a three-game weekend sweep of Drexel that pulled JMU within a game of league-leading Delaware.

The Colonial Athletic Association said Wednesday that a weekend series in Harrisonburg between JMU and Delaware would not be played and instead would be declared a no-contest that would not affect the conference standings. JMU had canceled a doubleheader against Longwood a day earlier.

For the season, Bernett, a dean’s list student from McDonald, Pennsylvania, majoring in biology, was batting .336 with nine home runs and 33 RBIs. Her home run last year helped James Madison win an NCAA regional game at Tennessee. The Dukes then beat Liberty to advance to the super regional and went to the Women’s College World Series.

“Our hearts are aching, hearing the news of the loss of one of our student-athletes. Lauren Bernett was a high-achieving member of our softball team and a great ambassador of JMU and our athletics program,” Alger and Bourne said in the joint statement.

“… College athletics is great because of the people with whom we get to interact every day. We are a tight family. We are grateful that Lauren has been part of our JMU Athletics community and will always consider her to be a Duke. We will miss her dearly.”

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If you or someone you know is in emotional distress or suicidal crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). For more information about mental health care resources and support, The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) HelpLine can be reached Monday through Friday, 10 a.m.–6 p.m. ET, at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) or email info@nami.org.

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