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Update: 18-year-old Rider freshman dies; heroin use cited


by Claire Heininger, Ana M. Alaya and Rick Hepp

Wednesday October 17, 2007, 8:51 PM

An 18-year-old Rider University freshman who authorities said appeared to be under the influence of drugs and alcohol died this morning after he was found unresponsive in a Princeton apartment.

Justin R. Warfield, of Columbia, Md., a theory composition major at the Lawrenceville university's Westminster Choir College, was pronounced dead at about 6 this morning at University Medical Center at Princeton, officials said. He had used heroin the night before, which was a factor in his death, authorities said tonight.


Saed Hindash/The Star-Ledger

A Princeton police officer stands guard outside the apartment where Justin Warfield was found dead today.

Princeton police responding to a 5 a.m. 911 call found Warfield (photo below)unresponsive at an off-campus apartment on Witherspoon Street, authorities said. Warfield was taken by ambulance to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead on arrival, authorities said.

Warfield was apparently already under the influence of drugs and alcohol - though not yet unconscious - when he was taken to the apartment by friends at about 11:30 p.m. Tuesday, said Casey A. DeBlasio, a spokeswoman for the Mercer County Prosecutor's Office. A few hours later, she said, a friend who was the resident of the apartment Medium_justin noticed Warfield was not breathing and called 911.

DeBlasio said Warfield used heroin Tuesday night.

"Certainly heroin contributed to his death," she said tonight. "We're investigating whether other drugs or alcohol he may have ingested also contributed to his death."

DeBlasio said the prosecutor is investigating where Warfield and his friends were before he was taken to the Witherspoon Street address, a two-story home containing side-by-side apartments.

The coffee-colored house was sealed off with crime scene tape late this afternoon when two residents of the apartment, both male Westminster students, returned with police to collect their belongings. Before leaving by car, the residents - who live there with a third student - both declined to comment.

"I'm not in an emotional state to say anything," one of the students said.

Warfield's death comes less than seven months after another 18-year-old freshman, Gary DeVercelly of Long Beach, Calif., died from binge drinking. DeVercelley died March 30, two days after he attended a Phi Kappa Tau party on Rider's campus where prospective members were told to drink large quantities of liquor.

Westminster Choir College, a Rider subsidiary, is a residential college of music located on a 23-acre campus in Princeton. About 330 undergraduates and 110 graduate students attend.

Warfield lived on the Westminster Choir campus, less than a half mile from the Witherspoon address. Rider spokesman Dan Higgins said Warfield was not a member of a fraternity and that there is only one honorary fraternity on that campus - Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia.

"There's no indication at this point that it was any type of hazing incident or related to a fraternity or campus party or anything along those lines," DeBlasio said.

Warfield graduated in June from Wilde Lake High School in Columbia, Md., which is located midway between Baltimore and Washington, D.C. He was the drummer for a band, "The Getaways," that played gigs at clubs and bars in both Baltimore and Washington, according to the band's Web page.

In several pictures posted on the Facebook social networking Web site, Warfield appears behind his drum set, deep in concentration as the band performs. Other photos show him posing with friends before prom and with family members on the steps of a church. By late afternoon, friends had begun to write tribute messages on the profile page apparently kept by Warfield, praising him as a talented drummer and thoughtful friend.

"We know that we speak for the entire University when we extend our heartfelt sympathy to his family," Rider President Mordechai Rozanski and Westminster Dean Robert Annis said in a statement posted on the school's Web site.

At Warfield's home in Columbia, Md., no one answered the door this afternoon, and neighbors said his family had left for New Jersey after receiving the news this morning.

"He was a really nice kid. He was involved with the church. I believe the whole family played instruments in the church choir," said Maureen Howley, who lives across the street. "It seemed that he was very close with his family."