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Columbia University student dies in freak accident during kayaking trip on Potomac River

A family and community are left devastated after a young student, who traveled from Ireland to the United States to further her education, tragically died in a kayaking trip over the weekend.

Ella Mills, who was studying at Columbia University in New York as part of a dual BA program with Trinity College Dublin in Ireland, joined the university’s Whitewater Kayaking Club on a kayaking trip on the Potomac River in Washington, D.C., Sunday afternoon. She never returned.

According to the Montgomery County Fire & Rescue Service, Mills was in the Little Falls when she became trapped under a rock and was unable to escape. She had only arrived in New York earlier this month, school administrators said in a statement to students.

“Words cannot express how heartbroken I feel for her family, her friends, her loved ones, and those students from the University who were with her on this trip,” Columbia University’s President Minouche Shafik said in a letter.

The school hosted a “community reflection” event Monday evening to remember the third-year student at the Peter J. Awn GS Student Lounge in Lewisohn Hall.

Kayaks and a police van

Approximately two dozen people from Columbia University were on the trip when the accident happened. (Montgomery County Fire & Rescue Service)

Rapid water

Ella Mills, who was studying at Columbia University in New York, died during a kayaking trip in the Potomac River. (American Whitewater/Glenn Fisher)

Columbia University’s leaders also offered support and guidance to students grappling with the loss, including psychological and religious services.

The investigation into the death remains ongoing.

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