Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2005 | 10:44 a.m.
The death of a UNLV sorority member on Saturday has left her Delta Zeta sisters and fellow students mourning the loss of their friend and pondering their own mortality.
Chassey Ako, 19, suffered what witnesses described as a seizure Saturday afternoon during a sorority recruitment event in the university's Flora Dungan Humanities building.
"She was talking on her phone and eating, and the next thing we knew she was on the ground," Delta Zeta sorority member Ashley Harless, 19, said following a candlelight vigil for Ako on Monday night.
Harless said it appeared that Ako was choking, and she tried to give her abdominal thrusts to help her, but Ako wasn't responsive. They called 911 about 3:30 p.m. and paramedics were there in less than five minutes.
Clark County Fire Department paramedics took her to Desert Springs Hospital where she was pronounced dead less than an hour later, UNLV officials said.
"It was scary because she was fine," Harless said. "We have pictures of her an hour before she died."
Ako's death, is a"hard pill to swallow," her father, John Ako, said. He and his wife, Amy, buried another daughter, Shelby Ako, 21, in June.
Shelby was found raped and murdered, shot in the head, at the Las Vegas apartment she shared with one of her sisters, police said.
A police officer shot to death her suspected killer, 19-year-old Barrington Hall, after Hall killed another 19-year-old woman and attacked her 16-year-old sister two weeks later.
The Akos have one surviving daughter, 27-year-old Rachel.
The Clark County coroner's office has not yet determined a cause of death, and John Ako declined to comment on whether his daughter had any medical history of seizures. There was no alcohol or drugs involved in the campus event, UNLV officials said.
The seeming randomness of Ako's death has left her fellow students with many questions, Delta Zeta chapter director Jamie Hemington, a local high school teacher, said. They want to know for sure how Ako died so they can have closure, but many are also pondering their own lives and just how short they may be.
"We are just as clueless as anyone," Hemington said. "They (the sorority sisters) are just struggling to keep it together and to support each other."
About 400 students packed the outdoor amphitheater in honor of Ako, who sorority sisters described as a "walking angel," a beautiful, smiling girl who believed deeply in the goodness of her sorority and in her friends.
A hostess at rumjungle, Ako was the "life of the party," who could always be counted on to help out when needed and who poured out unconditional love to everyone, students said.
"She had more faith and hope in Delta Zeta than I've ever seen," Harless said. "She loved this chapter more than anything, and we just want to give her what she gave to us."
Sorority sisters sobbed through quotes meant to comfort and inspire, and sniffles from the crowd so filled the crisp night air that it was difficult to hear the speakers. Most of the speakers talked about the shortness of life, and how Ako had touched so many during hers.
"I would see her all the time with a big smile on her face," said 20-year-old Marcus Lehner, a fellow UNLV student and Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity member who worked with Ako at Rum Jungle. Lehner sang the Jimmy Eat World ballad "Here You Me" in remembrance of Ako.
"She was just the tiniest girl, but she had the biggest heart, a heart bigger than her body," Lehner said.
Her father thanked the students repeatedly for the love they showed to his daughter, giving Lehner a hug after his song and blowing kisses to the crowd at the end of the vigil.
Chassey graduated from high school in her hometown of Fallon in 2004, and was studying hotel management, her father said. Her sorority, work and school kept her busy, but he and his wife had just visited her over Labor Day.
He and his wife are coping "as best as can be" by remembering the good times with his daughters, particularly Chassey's "big ol' toothy grin."
Sorority sisters said they took comfort in thinking that Chassey was now with her sister Shelby, who she loved so much.
"She used to say all the time that all she wanted was to be with her sister," Delta Zeta sorority member Christie Vay, 19, said.
The rest of sorority recruitment has been postponed to give students a chance to mourn, and the university is providing counselors for students, Rebecca Mills, vice president of student life, said.
The sororities had just hosted philanthropy day before Ako's seizure, Tom Studdert, assistant director of student involvement and activities, said. Pledges went from room to room learning about the different service projects each authority was involved with, such as Delta Zeta's work raising scholarship money for hearing impaired students.
A national panhellenic council regulates sorority recruiting very, very strictly, Studdert said.
About 800 students participate in the greek system at UNLV, Studdert said.
The close-knit group of sororities and fraternities rallied to help clean up the campus after Saturday's events and to support the Delta Zeta sisters in hosting Monday's vigil, Mills said.
"I'm almost amazed at the strengths they find in the bond that they share," Mills said. "...
That need for a strong support system is especially important in times like this when confronted with their own mortality. It's an incredibly sad time for all of us."