VC Star reports possible cause in death of Cal Lutheran student

The Echo Staff

This article includes discussion of drug use and death. If you are currently struggling, please reach out to Counseling and Psychological Services or Campus Ministry

Brenna Medrano, the first-year California Lutheran University student who passed on Nov. 9, 2020, died from a fatal drug overdose that was believed to involve fentanyl, the Ventura County Star first reported.

Chris Paul, assistant dean of students, director of Residence Life and Student Conduct and deputy Title IX coordinator, said in a Zoom interview that Resident Assistants (RA) are trained in CPR and First Aid and expected to act as first responders in these emergency situations.

“I feel bad that I had a 19-year-old RA that had to deal with that and is still dealing with that,” Paul said in a Zoom interview. “But they did an amazing job. They did everything that they needed to do. There was no question about that. Yeah, it’s heavy stuff, and it’s stuff that I hope they never have to deal with, but they did.”

Paul said she didn’t realize how many students were affected by Medrano’s passing until the vigil on Nov. 10.

“I guess I didn’t really realize how close the first-year students were to one another,” Paul said. “They’re a small group here on campus, and, you know, at the vigil that we had at the flagpole there were, it was clear that many students knew her.”

Marina Campanha, a friend of Medrano’s who previously planned to attend Cal Lutheran and room with Medrano, said Medrano was always upbeat and kind.

“She was just really optimistic to me she seemed like a very positive person. And she was always… like making jokes and just talking about like good stuff, at no point in time that she ever seem not like her best,” Campanha said. “So when I heard, I just couldn’t believe it and I thought maybe it was the wrong person, maybe it wasn’t actually Brenna.”

Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Jessica Lavariega Monforti created an online wall for the community to reflect on their relationships with Medrano.

“Though I hadn’t known you long, the interactions we had were memorable and I couldn’t wait to watch our friendship grow,” one anonymous post states. “You made me laugh and were nothing but kind to me. It hurts to know you no longer get to do that for others, but I know your light is always shining over this world.  Thank you for the memories you gave me, I will always hold them, and you, close to my heart.”

The day of Medrano’s passing, University President Lori Varlotta sent an email to Cal Lutheran staff, faculty and students that said the cause of death had not yet been determined.

Paul said the Residence Life staff was not aware that the medical emergency was drug-related until long after the fact and she was not asked to participate in the investigation.

“The police investigation… Yeah, no. I found out about that when it was posted on Twitter,” Paul said.

The Ventura County Star reported that the five-month investigation led to the recent arrest of the suspected drug dealer last week “on suspicion of selling a controlled substance and possessing a controlled substance for sale, both felony offenses.”

“I mean fentanyl is lethal,” Paul said. “So like if you’re a drug dealer… it’s a one-time thing–you’re not–those aren’t repeat customers, they don’t make it.”

Paul said she is creating educational materials on the dangers of counterfeit pills.

“It’s just super informational and it’s about fentanyl, and [it’s] really really risky to buy pills from anyone, and super dangerous,” Paul said. “I think we will focus on that. I don’t think this is a trend here on campus. I’m thankful for that.”

According to the 2020 Clery Report, on the Thousand Oaks campus there was one Drug Law Arrest in 2019 and no Drug Law Violations Referred for Disciplinary Action between 2017 and 2019.

According to Ventura County’s Health Status Profile for 2019, there were 131.3 drug-induced deaths each year on average from 2015-2017. In neighboring Santa Barbara County, there were 71.3 on average each year during the same time frame.

This article was updated April 12 at 7:45 a.m. to include an interview with Marina Campanha.