Justine Bernard ’23 died this spring from injuries she sustained in a shooting in Atlanta. The University community came together on what would have been her 20th birthday to celebrate a person her friends described as “outgoing, funny, hardworking.”
October 5, 2021
Fransheli Ventura ’23 has fond memories of her friend Justine Bernard ’23. They spent many weekends together, and, whether they were taking a trip to the mall or to New York City, Ventura says she was grateful for their adventures and for their friendship.
Bernard, a psychology major, died in June from injuries she sustained in a shooting in Atlanta, where she was visiting with friends. The University community came together on September 23 – what would have been Bernard’s 20th birthday – to remember her and celebrate her life.
“It was an absolute pleasure being friends with someone as outgoing, funny, hardworking, reliable, and organized as Justine,” said Ventura as part of the ceremony.
‘Justine brought kindness and thoughtfulness to her interactions’
Students, faculty, and staff gathered in the University’s Bucknall Theater to celebrate Bernard’s life – many of them wearing purple, Bernard’s favorite color. Bernard’s family members came to the University from her home state of New Jersey to attend the vigil. Ventura and Madison Manzo ’23, both dressed in purple, sang “happy birthday” to Bernard at the podium, which was also decorated in purple.
Rosemarie Lillie Macias, Ph.D., Bernard’s adviser, described her as someone who demonstrated warmth and compassion. She said Bernard had a strong interest in criminal justice and psychology and that her passing was a “tremendous loss for the field.” She credited Bernard with lifting her up during their interactions throughout the Spring 2021 semester.
“Justine had intelligence, dedication, and she was helpful to her peers and professors – all qualities that would make her a great forensic psychologist,” Dr. Macias said. “Justine brought kindness and thoughtfulness to her interactions with others. During the pandemic, Justine demonstrated not only resilience but also grace during stress.”
‘I know she’s with me, and I feel happy’
Bernard’s mother, Hazel Crichlow, thanked the University community for their outpouring of support. Sofia Martinez ’22, president of the University’s Undergraduate Student Government Association, presented her with a bouquet of purple flowers.
“I’ve been told that Justine envisioned for herself a future of change – one of equity and justice,” said Martinez. “We will see her lead these changes by the lives she has touched.”
Those who knew Bernard described her as someone who was kind, selfless, and who, from an early age, had a strong sense of justice. Sheahon Zenger, Ph.D., director of athletics and recreation, said that, as a kid, Bernard gave her lunch money to help those in need and regularly visited nursing homes.
“She was a young woman of vision – for how she saw the world and how she wanted it to be,” he said. “Justine will always live in our hearts and our collective souls.”
Ophelie Rowe-Allen, Ed.D., dean of students and chief student affairs officer, concluded the ceremony by saying that Bernard will “always be a Charger.”
Ventura, Bernard’s friend, says she continues to feel Bernard’s presence and draw comfort from it. Describing butterflies as “Justine’s symbol,” she told the University community that she recently looked out a window to see “the most beautiful monarch” land on the only purple flower in view. She says she finds joy in these reminders of her friend, and she encouraged the University community to leave the vigil happy, urging them to celebrate Bernard’s life and her memory.
“I know she’s with me, and I feel happy,” she said. “Being able to look back on the great times and laughs I had with Justine gives me honor that I got to experience her brightness.”