Candlelight vigil shines light on grief after UMass students deaths

Apr 10, 2023

Silence on the UMass Dartmouth campus spoke volumes about students’ grief.

Hundreds gathered for a candlelight vigil Monday, April 10 to mourn the deaths of master’s of fine arts student Alexandra Landry and first-year student Frank Petillo Jr., who both died Thursday, April 6.

Petillo, who hailed from Manahawkin, N.J., was struck and killed by a vehicle on Ring Road on the campus. No cause of death has been publicly announced for Landry.

Mournful faces shimmered over the quad while candles and flashlights were lit in memorial of the students.

Students and faculty heard from Dr. Kevin Hamilton, Associate Vice Chancellor and Dean of Student Belonging, as well as family and friends of Landry and Petillo.

Lawrence Jenkins, Dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts, talked about Landry, who hailed from Louisiana. 

He gave her artwork high praise and explained that she used art to grapple with her personal battles.

“She, in her time here, struggled with many demons and struggled hard against those. And I think it was her art that allowed her a space to cope with those struggles,” said Jenkins.

Landry’s oil paintings are on display at the UMass Dartmouth Art Gallery at the Star Store in downtown New Bedford through May 13.

Lauren Petillo, one of Frank Petillo's four older sisters, was joined by other family members at the podium, to speak about her brother.

"My brother Frankie was one of the kindest, most funny and honest people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing, I am so proud and lucky to have had the honor to grow up with him. He made me a big sister and I will always have that.’’

She said the two of them were “inseparable, and I'm so lucky to have been so close with him. Not a single day will go by without thinking about him, missing him, and just wanting to give him a big hug and tell him that I love him….I will never forget his laugh or his smile.’’

Chancellor Mark Fuller said the sadness over the losses reflects the bond the campus community shares.

“This has been a difficult week for the Corsair community,’’ Fuller wrote in a message to the community announcing the deaths. “We feel a collective pain even if we do not personally know those who have passed. We sit in class together. We work together. We pass each other in the halls. We are often more connected than we realize.’’

Campus police received a call at about 5:30 p.m. April 6 that a motor vehicle had struck a pedestrian on campus. 

Petillo was found lying on Ring Road with significant injuries, according to the Bristol County District Attorney’s Office. He was transported to St. Luke’s Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

The student driving the vehicle involved was located at the scene. The incident is under investigation by the Massachusetts State Police Detective Unit assigned to the Bristol County District Attorney and the Collision Analysis and Reconstruction Section Unit of the Massachusetts State Police.

The incident prompted calls for additional traffic safety on campus. A petition on titled “Street Safety at UMass Dartmouth’’ calls for more safety measures.

“The student body wants more safety. Speed bumps, speed monitors, sidewalks and stop lights with crosswalks. We have to take action now, there is no time to wait when it costs a life,’’ the petition reads.

In the wake of the death, Fuller called for immediate action, including the installation of speed bumps to slow the traffic on the more densely populated side of Ring Road and the placement of temporary signs that indicate a driver’s speed until permanent, speed-detecting signs can be placed in the area.

Plans also call for stationing additional patrol cars at key points along Ring Road; installing “permanent and highly visible’’ speed tables and creating a plan for a secure pedestrian walkway between Oak Glen and the Woodland apartments by eliminating parking along Ring Road and installing temporary concrete barriers. 

More parking will be created by opening a large gravel lot where the former first-year residents halls were recently removed and adding appropriate shuttle services to that area. 

Fuller estimated the work would be done in about a month.

Counseling services are available on campus through the counseling center, they can be reached at 508-999-8648 and 508-999-8650. The after-hours Support Help Line can be reached at 508-910-4357.

The Center for Religious and Spiritual Life has campus ministers from several faith traditions who provide confidential pastoral counseling they can be reached at 508-999-8872.

Information about resources that assist with wellness and academic success can be found at

Fuller also encouraged faculty and staff needing support to call Human Resources at 508-999-8060 to take advantage of the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) for free counseling. EAP benefits may be accessed by calling 844-393-4983.