By Julian Routh | News Editor
The sophomore business student who died Sunday morning was caring, hardworking and “always nice to everybody,” his friends said.
Ryan Fleming, 20, of Johnstown, Pa., died in his sleep from a cardiac condition, his family said. His body was found in his room on the 12th floor in Towers dorm shortly after Duquesne police responded to a call for an unresponsive male at 10:15 a.m. The Allegheny County Medical Examiner’s office said Fleming died of natural causes.
Trevor Succa, who was with Fleming on Saturday evening, said Fleming was the type of person who “gave everybody a chance.”
“He was always there for me when I needed him,” Succa said. “He was probably the best friend I’ve ever had. He cared about everything. He never put anybody down, ever.”
Fleming, an accounting major, was a 4.0 student who wanted to go to law school, friends said. His girlfriend, Angela Palchowski, said he “was always in the library studying,” even on weekends.
Fleming and Palchowski were dating for two months before Fleming’s death.
There was “just something so special about him and I,” Palchowski said.
“He was so amazing,” Palchowski said. “I can’t even describe how happy he made me. He never went a day without telling me how lucky he was to have found me.”
Fleming was passionate about sports and in September 2012, he landed a job as assistant to the director of football operations for the Duquesne football team. Director of football operations John Rosato, who has coached for nearly 30 years, said Fleming was the first student manager to make his job easier.
“Quite honestly, I’m grieving now,” Rosato said. “But I’ll be grieving later on too when he’s not around to help us.”
Rosato also said Fleming, a “smart, organized individual,” was dedicated to the football team and to Duquesne.
Football Coach Jerry Schmitt, who is Fleming’s uncle, said Fleming earned the respect of the players and the staff. Fleming referred to his uncle as “Coach Schmitt” at work.
“He was a humble, intelligent, committed, honest, dedicated young man,” Schmitt said. “I couldn’t be more proud of him as a nephew.”
According to Schmitt, Fleming was also involved with the Red and Blue Crew, “cheering on the team with his headband and sunglasses on.”
Fleming suffered from Wolff–Parkinson–White syndrome, which is the presence of an abnormal pathway in the heart that triggers periods of a very fast heartbeat. He had precautionary bypass heart surgery in December, Palchowski said.
At the Duquesne men’s basketball game the night before his death, Fleming said his heart was “racing,” according to Succa.
“He had me feel [his heart],” Succa said. “It was incredible how fast it was going. By the end of the game, he told me he was fine and nothing was wrong. I thought nothing of it.”
After the game, Fleming met up with Palchowski and ate at Towers Dining Hall. Then, the couple went back to Palchowski’s room in Des Places, where Fleming complained about heart pain. Palchowski asked him if he wanted to go to the hospital.
“He said, ‘No, I don’t want to go to any hospitals in Pittsburgh, and if I do go, they are going to poke me with more needles,’” Palchowski said.
According to Palchowski, Fleming said goodbye to her and went back to his room in Towers at 2 a.m., where he watched television with his roommate.
Palchowski said she waited for Fleming’s usual 10:30 a.m. text message the next morning asking her to meet for Mass, but it never came.
“Even today, it feels like a nightmare I can’t wake up from,” Palchowski said.
Megan Devitt, Fleming’s friend, said “it still doesn’t feel real,” and that if Fleming were still alive, she would ask if they could hang out one more time.
“He had all the best qualities you could ever ask for in a friend,” Devitt said. “He was always there for you and made you feel so important, even the people he didn’t know as well. There was not a bad bone in his body.”
Palchowski is organizing an event in the coming weeks where Duquesne students can gather on Rooney Field with balloons and “release them up to heaven.”
Fleming is going to be buried with half of a heart charm inscribed “Angela.” Palchowski has the half that says “Ryan.”
Fleming is survived by his parents, Tom and Linda, and brother Tyler.
The funeral will be held at St. Clement Church in Johnstown on Saturday at 11 a.m. The viewing will take place at Harris Funeral Home in Johnstown on Thursday from 4 to 8 p.m. and Friday from 2 to 8 p.m.
Duquesne is sending a bus to the funeral. Students interested in attending can sign up in the Office of Residence Life in Assumption Hall.
The University is also holding a memorial mass to celebrate Fleming’s life on Feb. 4 at 9 p.m. in the University Chapel.