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Liberty University student dies in hiking accident along Blue Ridge Parkway

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LYNCHBURG, Va. – A 20-year-old junior at Liberty University died in a hiking accident on Sunday, May 8.

Jonathan Veldhuyzen died while hiking the Fallingwater Cascades National Scenic Trail along the Blue Ridge Parkway, just below the Peaks of Otter. He was with three other friends, who had gotten outside to drive down the Blue Ridge Parkway and enjoy the nice weather.

“We were playing happy music in the car, feeling the breeze as we drove down the parkway,” said Liberty University graduate student, Eli McGowan.

They didn’t have a specific destination.

Jonathan Veldhuyzen was hiking with friends on May 8. Photo by Eli McGowan

Jonathan Veldhuyzen was hiking with friends on May 8. Photo by Eli McGowan

McGowan said they decided to stop when they saw a sign that the cascades were just 1,000 feet from the parkway. He said they hiked the path straight down, below the big falls where there is a tiny creek. While they set up a hammock between two trees, Jonathan looked around,  McGowan said.

“Jonathan was ahead exploring,” he said. “We lost track of him.”

He said that about 10-15 minutes elapsed since they had last seen Jonathan and they went in search of him.

“We took a turn and I saw his shoes, and I saw him in a pool [of water],” McGowan said.

The group took turns trying to revive him, and contacting emergency responders. When  they arrived an hour later, McGowan said, they declared Jonathan deceased after about 10 minutes.

He said it is unknown exactly what happened.

McGowan shared photos taken from the hike and said that Jonathan was very kind and inspiring, with a great sense of humor.

Jonathan Veldhuyzen looks out onto the Blue Ridge mountains on May 8. Photo by Eli McGowan

Jonathan Veldhuyzen looks out onto the Blue Ridge mountains on May 8. Photo by Eli McGowan

“He extended the benefit of the doubt to everyone he came across,” he said.

“He was such a hilarious guy,” McGowan added. “Our entire friend group had never met someone so hilarious.”

“Even last night when we all together and with his family, the stories were coming out and people were in stitches over some of the things he would do,” he said.

McGowan said that a small, private funeral will be held soon. Later in June there will be a larger, memorial service in Fairfax, where Jonathan is from. Some of his siblings are deployed and they will be coming back for the memorial.

A Liberty spokesperson said that the school will continue to provide student counseling services available to anyone who needs it.

The university released a statement to WSLS:

Liberty University has learned that one of its students, 20-year-old Jonathan Veldhuyzen, a senior, died after a hiking accident on Sunday, May 8.

The university offers its condolences to those affected by this tragedy. Liberty’s community is lifting Jonathan’s family and friends in prayer through this difficult time. LU Shepherds and Student Leadership are offering their support to the Liberty community, and Student Counseling Services are being made available to those in need.