Nana Kwasi Baffour-Awuah
Nana Kwasi Baffour-Awuah

DECORAH, Iowa (AP) --- An Luther College student from Ghana found dead on New Year's Day near the campus baseball field died of hypothermia after authorities failed to find him following a 911 call seeking help, police said Tuesday.

Nana Kwasi Baffour-Awuah's death was ruled accidental and due to "exposure/hypothermia" after an autopsy by the state medical examiner, Decorah police said in a statement. Baffour-Awuah, a popular student known around the Luther College campus as "Nabby," had a blood alcohol level of .174 and a trace amount of marijuana in his system, toxicology tests showed.

His death had shocked and baffled the liberal arts college of 2,600 students, who remembered Baffour-Awuah at memorial services last month as a friendly and energetic student, worker and residence hall adviser. The college, which is affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, is located in Decorah, in northeastern Iowa.

The 24-year-old went to a New Year's party off-campus on Dec. 31 --- when temperatures dipped well below freezing --- and had been drinking, police said. He left the party at about 1 a.m. and took a cab back to campus. But when he returned to the dormitory where he was a residence hall adviser, the doors were locked because campus was closed and he had forgotten his keys.

At about 1:45 a.m., Baffour-Awuah called 911 because he was "in distress and was seeking help" and identified his location as the college campus, police said. Officers, along with a college security guard and a Winneshiek Medical Center paramedic unit, searched the campus and surrounding neighborhood for 2 ½ hours but couldn't find him.

A passerby saw Baffour-Awuah's body at about 8 a.m. near the baseball field, and called police.

He was found wearing only long pants and two T-shirts.

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Police said investigators found no signs of foul play. There was only one set of tracks left in the snow where he had descended a wooded, snow-covered embankment behind the residence hall. The temperature in Decorah was 32 degrees early evening on Dec. 31 before plummeting to as low as 2 degrees over the next 24 hours, according to the National Weather Service.

The college had been eagerly awaiting the results of the police investigation, which was assisted by the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation. Baffour-Awuah was from Tema, Ghana, a nation in West Africa, and was already searching for jobs in business. He planned to graduate in May.

"There's some finality and some sense of closure with it that we know what the cause of death was. Of course, that doesn't reduce the sense of loss and sadness on campus," college spokesman Jerry Johnson said. "He was a really popular student and a really great guy. He's obviously missed and this doesn't do anything to diminish that."

Johnson said the case would prompt the college to review its procedures for activities during winter break, when the college is closed but dozens of international students are still on campus. He said there were about 50 students on campus during this break, and all of them have keys to their buildings.

The state medical examiner's office noted that drinking alcohol increases one's susceptibility to hypothermia, and symptoms include confusion, disorientation and unusual conduct after being exposed to cold temperatures for as short as 20 minutes.

"This all tragically falls into that pattern," Johnson said. "He was apparently confused and wasn't thinking clearly and just had a really tragic end."


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