At Rowan, hundreds gathered to mourn student

The family of Matthew Uhl, who was hit by a car on Rowan's campus and died, is surrounded by students.
The family of Matthew Uhl, who was hit by a car on Rowan's campus and died, is surrounded by students. (RON CORTES / Staff Photographer)
Posted: April 19, 2013

Students gathered by the hundreds Tuesday night on the patio behind Rowan University's student center, until close to 2,000 had formed a protective pack surrounding the family of Matthew J. Uhl.

Uhl was killed around 12:30 a.m. Friday when he was hit by a car on State Street as he walked on campus with friends. The 22-year-old from Little Egg Harbor, N.J., was a senior entrepreneurship major just five weeks from graduation.

His family came to the Glassboro campus for the Rowan Remembers vigil, held the last few springs in memory of Rowan students who have died during the year. Four others were remembered Tuesday.

"Matt was an amazing young man from the day he was born to the day he passed," Uhl's father, Albert, said, recalling the son with whom he loved to play sports. "I knew I never had to worry about Matt; Matt had a direction."

With Albert Uhl were Matthew's mother, Dawn, and siblings, Caitlyn and Albert Jr. Uhl's girlfriend, Ashleigh Boyce, also spoke.

"He had so many more years to give, so many more years to help change the lives of those around him," Boyce said.

"Make sure you hold each other when you can," Boyce told the gathered crowd. "Be patient and understanding. . . . Life is way too short."

Boyce also delivered an impassioned plea to take action against drunk driving, the "one small action, one stupid decision," that may have killed her boyfriend.

Glassboro police believe "alcohol may have played a role" in the incident. The driver, Derrick D. Gilliam, 26, of Bridgeport, Conn., had the smell of alcohol on his breath and an open bottle of vodka on the floor of the backseat, police said in a statement. Police await toxicology test results after Gilliam refused to cooperate with a driving-while-intoxicated investigation.

Candles were lit after the remarks, and Uhl's family and Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity brothers led the crowd across Route 322 to the university's Memorial Green, where a flag flew at half-staff. It took the group a full 10 minutes to flow across the street as police blocked the intersection.

"I just can only wish for his family much strength," university president Ali Houshmand told the crowd as he described the "devastating" pain he felt because of a personal sense of responsibility for students' safety.

"We will make sure his spirit will stay on this campus forever," Houshmand said, announcing a scholarship that would be set up in Uhl's name. The initial funds will be provided by Houshmand himself, he said in an interview after the vigil.

As Houshmand talked, the students moved on to an unofficial third part of the ceremony, a gathering at a memorial on State Street where they would continue to share their memories.

The other four students were Colette Bleistine, Kristin DiBerardine, Nicole Halstead, and Elizabeth Hynoski.

Uhl's family and hometown friends are expected to return for Rowan's May 17 undergraduate graduation, where Uhl will be granted a degree posthumously.


Contact Jonathan Lai at 856-779-3220, jlai@phillynews.com, or on Twitter @elaijuh.

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