The rank odor from the end of the hallway had become too strong to ignore.
For nearly two months, it was faint enough that nobody at the University of Canterbury realized that a young man was dead, and decomposing, in his own room. Students left campus for two weeks of vacation, and returned, and still no one noticed anything.
But on Monday, police finally made it to the Sonoda dorm at the suburban campus outside Christchurch, New Zealand, where authorities discovered the body of a first-year student, local media reported. The student's father, who could not reach the young man through his friends, had also contacted police.
The young man's body had gone untouched for so long that police had to call in a special team to examine fingerprints, DNA and dental records so they could confirm his identity, Detective Senior Sgt. Craig Johnson told reporters. Most details surrounding the incident, including the student's name and age, had not been made public as of early Wednesday, and the coroner is still investigating the cause of death.
Amid an outcry from university students that's gone all the way up to New Zealand's education minister this week, a university is grappling with a grim question: How could a dead student go undiscovered for so long?
For now, no one really seems to know.
"It is inconceivable to imagine how these circumstances could have occurred," Cheryl de la Rey, the university's vice chancellor, said in a statement to The Washington Post.
De la Rey said Wednesday that the university will commission an independent investigation to examine the oversight, despite what she called an "extensive" well-being program to support students.
She declined to comment further to respect the family of the student. "This is an extremely distressing time for University students and staff," de la Rey said.
A friend of the student's told the Press, a Christchurch newspaper, that he was a "good and confident guy" who would sometimes "go off the grid for a week or so."
The Sonoda dorm, a leafy complex surrounded by cherry blossoms and tennis courts that houses first-year students, is one of six that's owned by the university but managed by Campus Living Villages, an Australian company that also oversees student housing in the United States and United Kingdom. Students pay more than $10,000 a year for a single-occupancy room in the "smaller close-knit community," which has just 108 beds, split across five-person apartments, as well as a cafeteria serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, according to its website. The dorm employs two resident assistants as well as a manager, the university said, and Campus Living Villages meets with the university every two weeks to discuss "students of concern."
Chris Hipkins, New Zealand's education minister, called on the university to "conduct a thorough investigation."
"If you're going into a hall of residence or a hostel, you are paying top dollar for not just a roof over your head but also the pastoral care that goes with that," he told the Associated Press. "And I think clearly that's not been present in this case."
Sam Brosnahan, the University of Canterbury's student body president, said the death had distressed students on the usually peaceful campus.
"It's generally well regarded by students as a safe place to learn, study and live," he told the AP.
But Bex Bryan, a former resident adviser at the university, said in a Facebook post she found it "unbelievable" it took so long to find the dead student. She had daily contact with students, planned weekend activities and knew who was away when.
The dorms "have certainly taken a dive since my days," she said, "evidenced by the litter and general behaviour of students there at night."