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Student OK after being hit by train: Columbus East graduate's college outing turns tragic

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Graham Nissen, a 2009 graduate of Columbus East High School, remained hospitalized in good condition Friday after he was among three Earlham College students struck by a train while walking in Richmond, Indiana’s Historic Depot District shortly after 1 a.m.

Nissen, a senior at the eastern Indiana college, is the son of Don and Karen Nissen of Columbus. Don Nissen is director of information management at the Columbus Area Visitors Center on Fifth Street, said Robin Gray, executive assistant at the center.

Richmond Police said the three pedestrians, all Earlham College students, were hit by an eastbound train at the North Eighth and E streets crossing, and that one of the students, identified as Therese Heymann, 21, of Burlingame, Calif., died at the scene.

Graham Nissen and another student — identified as Lenore Edwards — were taken by helicopter to Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton, Ohio, for treatment, the Associated Press reported.

Miami Valley officials said Graham Nissen is being cared for in a regular room at the hospital and is not in the intensive care unit. Edwards was listed in critical condition at midday Friday.

“This is one of the worst scenarios we can imagine,” said Earlham’s President David Dawson, head of the 1,200-student campus. “This is a very tightly knit community, and tragedies such as this affect us all very deeply.”

Graham Nissen’s parents could not be reached for comment Friday.

Richmond Police Department Capt. Bill Shake told the Associated Press that police officers and the Richmond Fire Department were called to the scene at 1:12 a.m. Friday. All three victims were on the south side of the train. Shoes, a backpack and a purse were found on the ground in the area, police said.

The students apparently were taking part in College Night, an entertainment event in Richmond’s historic depot area. Earlham had provided shuttle transportation to and from the area, the Associated Press reported.

The train that struck the students weighed 1,948 tons and was headed from Fort Wayne to Cincinnati, said Dave Pidgeon, spokesman for Norfolk Southern Corp. Typical train speeds in the area reach 40 mph, Pidgeon said, but it’s unclear how fast this one was going. Two crew members on the train were not injured, the Associated Press reported.

In a message to the Earlham College community and distributed via social media, Dawson noted, “I am heartened by the great compassion within our community, even in grief, and want to encourage you to reach out to one another during this very difficult time.”

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