It was forbidden. But the group of friends sneaked into Fordham University’s most recognizable building in the dead of night anyway early Sunday.
They clambered up the steep staircase of the granite bell tower that overlooks Fordham’s Rose Hill campus to take in the view of the Bronx under moonlight, sending a Snapchat video from the top.
Then something went horribly wrong.
One of the students, a 22-year-old senior, fell through an opening in a landing, the police said, and plummeted down the inside of the clock and bell tower just a month before her graduation.
The woman, Sydney Monfries, was rushed to St. Barnabas Hospital, where she died Sunday evening, according to the university. The police had found her unconscious inside the tower at about 3 a.m., with trauma to her head and body. The circumstances and the height of the fall were not clear.
The university sent multiple emails to students on Sunday, updating them on Ms. Monfries’s fall from the tower in Keating Hall at the heart of campus and on her condition.
“There are no words sufficient to describe the loss of someone so young and full of promise — and mere weeks from graduation,” the Rev. Joseph M. McShane, the president of the Jesuit university, said in an email to students.
The tower is off limits, but that has not stopped curious students eager to get a glimpse of the view.
“It’s like a senior thing to go on the most popular building on campus,” said Priscilla Morales, a psychology student at the university. “Recently people heard the door was open or found a passageway. They usually go late at night at around 1 or 2 a.m. to drink and see the view.”
Fordham held a Mass on Sunday night for students and faculty members to gather and pray for Ms. Monfries, who was from Portland, Ore., and had been studying journalism. The school said it would posthumously award Ms. Monfries a bachelor’s degree.
“I know you join me in keeping Sydney, and her family and loved ones, in your thoughts and prayers,” Father McShane said in an earlier email. “I also urge you to be kind to one another, and to yourselves, in the days that follow.”
Ms. Monfries had posted a video from the top of the tower on Snapchat with the caption “Bell tower” early Sunday, according to video shared with The New York Times.
In the video, there is muffled but excited chatter as a few students stumble through the dark tower using their phones as flashlights. Other students can be seen holding up their phones to record the Bronx skyline and the university’s illuminated sports field from the tower’s perch.
Keating Hall is open during regular hours, but locked at night, and access to the clock tower is restricted around the clock, according to a university spokeswoman. It is unclear how the students got in.
The 83-year-old classroom and administrative building is one of Fordham’s most recognizable buildings, known for its Gothic-style facade, the hourly chimes of its bells and the steps where commencement is held every year.
Many students said climbing the building’s tower was a storied rite of passage that some undertake before graduating.
“There’s the three things you have to do at Fordham,” said Lili Huang, a 21-year-old senior studying communications.
“You have to ride the ram,” she said of a statue of the university’s mascot, which students climb on to take pictures. “You have to go into the tunnels underground and you have to go into the bell tower.”
Others said climbing the bell tower is not a tradition, but rather a daring idea that surfaces every once in a while, passed on through word of mouth by students and alumni.
A 2013 article in the university’s student newspaper titled “Truths of a Forbidden Tower Revealed” detailed the ghost stories surrounding the tower and quoted students who claimed to have made the pitch-black climb up a spiral staircase through an interior door that is usually locked.
“The thrill of danger is definitely a huge allure to going up,” one student told the newspaper, The Fordham Ram. “I would say the other two reasons for going up are the amazing view of the entire campus from up there and the ability to brag about doing it.”
On Sunday, the university’s campus was busier than usual, packed with prospective students visiting the University for Tours. Many were unaware of the incident until university officials held a moment of silence before a welcome address.
“They said, ‘Welcome, everyone, we’re going to have a silent prayer for the unfortunate incident that happened this morning,’” said James Groenier, 18, of St. Louis, who is interested in Fordham’s business school. “It lasted about 15 seconds and then they went on to their regular presentation.”
As he spoke, a group of students passed by the back door to the building that holds the tower. A young man and his father walked up and tugged on the locked door.