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Virginian Pilot Reports:::::::
July 14, 1998

18-year-old ROTC student dies in fall from rope ladder in Little Creek training exercise 

BY DAVE MAYFIELD, The Virginian-Pilot 
Copyright 1998, Landmark Communications Inc.


Emerald Cenizal was about 20 feet above the ground and climbing sideways across the rope ladder to get ready for her descent when she fell. She was pronounced dead at the Little Creek Naval Amphibious Base scene after medical personnel from the Navy, city of Virginia Beach and Sentara's Nightingale helicopter were unable to revive her.

An 18-year-old Navy ROTC student from Virginia Beach lost her grip on a rope ladder during a training program at Little Creek Naval Amphibious Base Monday morning and fell to her death as several of her fellow midshipmen watched in horror.

Emerald Candor Cenizal, a former president of the Filipino Youth Club of Hampton Roads, had just started the first training day in a four-week summer program aimed at orienting prospective Navy and Marine Corps officers to military life.

 Cenizal was about 20 feet above the ground and climbing sideways across the rope ladder to get ready for her descent when she fell just after 9 a.m., the Navy said. She was pronounced dead at the scene after medical personnel from the Navy, city of Virginia Beach and Sentara Health System's Nightingale helicopter were unable to revive her.

 The death was the first that officials could recall having occurred in the Little Creek program. Cenizal was enrolled in ROTC through the University of Pennsylvania, although she was a full-time student at Drexel University in Philadelphia. She was among 115 students training at the base this week in a segment of the program that focuses on the Marine Corps.

 Col. Richard Maloney, the officer in charge of the Marine segment, called the accident a ``terrible tragedy.''

 Grieving friends of the girl in Hampton Roads' tightly knit Filipino community remembered her as a dynamic go-getter. But, they noted, she still found time to work with youth groups and sing in a choir at St. Matthew's Catholic Church in Virginia Beach.

 Aurea Reyes sang in the choir with Emerald, and recalled the young woman's talent, intelligence and charm.

 ``She would have had a bright future,'' said Reyes. ``She was very talented.''

 Emerald was a devoted and talented member of the choir, said Nancy Lerf, music minister at the church. ``She's wonderful,'' Lerf said. ``She's a saint.''

 The slender teen often led the 1,200-family congregation in a call and response of Old Testament Psalms. Emerald sang at last Sunday's service.

 ``She didn't really need a microphone,'' Lerf said. ``All I can do is hear her voice in my head.''

 ``She was a stellar kid,'' said Ron Villanueva, president of the Philippine American Community of Tidewater. ``In this generation, when we need young leaders to take over, she was a rising star. She had success written all over her.''

 The girl was close to her 19-year-old sister, Emmeline, who attends The College of William and Mary. She liked jogging and in-line skating. She was a graduate of Tallwood High School.

 As Maloney stood Monday afternoon on the pine-thicketed ``confidence course'' where the accident occurred, he said he couldn't explain how it happened.

 ``She made it up to the top, I'm told, fine,'' he said. But, ``on her way across, she appeared to be nervous or to panic a little bit and leaned backwards.''

 Maloney said two Marine supervisors on the ground ``were trying to encourage her to hold on and just to continue on, because she was doing fine, and then, suddenly, she let go and fell down.''

 The obstacle on which the accident occurred is called the Snakepit, a tall mesh of thick rope strung between two loblolly pines. It is one of about 10 obstacles that Cenizal and others in her platoon of about 30 students were to complete, the colonel said.

 Maloney called the obstacle ``fairly routine.'' He said Marine trainers had thoroughly briefed the midshipmen about it and demonstrated how to navigate it before sending the students up it. The colonel said that, as far as he knew, Cenizal hadn't expressed any fears about climbing it.

 ``I think if she had come forward and said, `I don't want to do this,' we certainly would not have made her do it,'' he added. ``We would have encouraged her to do it. But if she didn't want to do it, then no one would have made her do it.''

 Barbara Jennings, a Little Creek spokeswoman, said the course is maintained and regularly used by Navy SEALs. The rope ladder wasn't used in the midshipmen training last summer because it had been taken down, Maloney noted, but, after being restrung, the Marines decided to reincorporate it this year. He said it won't be used by midshipmen for the rest of the current program.

 The program that Cenizal was participating in is called Career Orientation and Training of Midshipmen. Altogether, about 400 ROTC students from colleges and universities across the country are participating in the program, which is overseen by the Pensacola, Fla.-based Chief of Naval Education and Training. The other students are currently divided up into weeklong orientations to the Navy's surface ships, submarines and aircraft.

 Staff writers Earl Swift and Louis Hansen contributed to this report.
RGINIA BEACH -- One day, Michael Mendoza was trading e-mail with his friend Ferdinand Espanol, both excited about this fall and the adventures that awaited at the University of Virginia.

 The next, Mendoza was getting messages of a different sort. Another Tallwood High School student died Thursday, the second in less than two weeks. 

``I said, `Aw, man.' And I was sad,'' Mendoza said. ``Then some of my friends called and said it was Ferd, and my jaw just kind of dropped.''

 Police found Espanol drowned in a pool next door to his home early Thursday morning after his father called to report him missing.

 Police pronounced the 18-year-old dead on the scene. His death has been ruled accidental. It also landed Espanol, a June graduate, as the 10th person on the list of Tallwood students and graduates who have died since 1994. Espanol was the second such student this year to drown.

 On July 13, Emerald Cenizal, a 1997 Tallwood graduate, died while participating in a Navy ROTC training exercise.

 ``A lot of these students just saw each other Friday and Saturday at Emerald's wake and funeral,'' said Gay Dailey, head of Tallwood's guidance department.

 Students and teachers who heard about Espanol began calling and e-mailing each other with the news. Some got a double dose of grief because earlier reports erroneously said it was a different Tallwood student who had died.

 Most described Espanol as warm and confident, one of those students everyone knew. 

And his passion and verbal skills -- a ``dictionary with feet,'' his Advanced Placement government teacher Les Fortune called him -- earned Espanol respect. His intellect placed him 35th in a graduating class of 482.

 Even with its 2,400-student population, Tallwood is as tight-knit as a small town, staff and students said. A couple dozen students filtered into Tallwood on Thursday afternoon, looking for answers, for some reason why their friend died -- and so suddenly after another. Dailey didn't have a lot of definitive answers for them. She counseled red-eyed students, even as hers misted.

 ``When you see them, there's hurt and confusion on their face,'' she said. ``You just hope that maybe it makes them much more caring, stronger young people and adults.''

 It wasn't long ago that Espanol gave an impromptu speech to his classmates struggling to deal with the death of Annie McLaughlin, who was killed in an automobile accident last fall.

 ``He was able to express to the people that, yes, we have lost Annie, physically, visually, but she will never leave us,'' Fortune recalled. ``It was if there was an understanding after he spoke. It's ironic that after he said such things, that we're talking about Ferdinand the same way.''

 For friends such as Mendoza, the reality of back-to-back tragedy still is coming together. Mendoza and Espanol had been classmates forever -- attending Centerville Elementary, Brandon Middle and, finally, Tallwood together. Starting classes at U.Va. will be different without him.

 ``There were so many things going through my head, so many good things about this one person,'' he said. ``I had to sit down and think about it for a while. Ferdinand is gone.''