Kirsten Elisabeth Wolcott was serving as a volunteer teacher at the Seventh-day Adventist school in Yap, Micronesia. She was found dead off campus Wednesday November 18. [photo courtesy Southern Adventist University]
Police have made an arrest in connection with Wolcott's death, said Louis Torres, president of the church's Guam-Micronesia Mission. He and other church leaders from the church's regional administrative headquarters took the one-hour commercial flight from Guam to Yap Wednesday evening to assess the tragedy affecting the school and provide grief support for other teachers.
"This is a difficult situation for the school, the mission and the Island of Yap," Torres said. "The police officer said nothing like this has ever taken place in the past to a visitor."
Classes are suspended for now and a memorial service was held Friday for Wolcott, who taught second grade.
"This is devastating news, not only for the family but for the school and the Adventist Church," said Homer Trecartin, associate secretary for the Adventist world church and director of Adventist Volunteer Service.
"Throughout the history of the church many have made the sacrifice to go serve and some have paid with their lives," Trecartin said. "Our prayer is that God will raise other people to finish the work that Kirsten and others started."
Torres reported that women from the community are now taking turns staying overnight at the apartment of the female teachers to help them feel safe. "The island feels a great loss," Torres said. "The parents of the children are enraged and heartbroken."
Wolcott, 20, had taken a year off of school at Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, Tennessee, where she was a junior education major. She graduated from Richmond Academy in 2007 with high academic honors and was on Southern University's distinguished dean's list.
She was also known for her love of music and running, a university media release said. Wolcott played the harp and piano and sung in Bel Canto, the university's women's chorus. She won several 5k runs, placed third among women in the Toys for Tots 10k Race in Newport News, Virginia, and competed in the Kinetic Sprint Triathlon in Spotsylvania.
Wolcott had previously volunteered on week-long mission trips to Alaska and the Galapagos Islands, said Jose Rojas, the church's North American Volunteer Ministries director, citing her student missionary application.
Wolcott wrote in her application that she wanted to be a student missionary to challenge her walk with God by pushing herself to do something more than she had ever done before.
"My goal is to be the teacher that inspires them academically, pushes them spiritually, and comforts them emotionally," she wrote.
According to Ingrid Skantz, director of marketing and university relations at Southern, an on-campus memorial service for Kirsten will be held the week after Thanksgiving break. Details about the service will be announced, she said. The school is also offering counseling to its students.
"At a painful time such as this, we remember in prayer Kirsten's parents, friends, fellow student missionaries, and all on our campus who knew and loved her well," Skantz said in a statement.
Yap SDA School opened in 1987 as an elementary school and subsequently expanded to a kindergarten through 12th-grade school. The school is highly rated on the island and is operated mostly by Adventist college students volunteering as teachers. About 10 student missionaries are serving this year in Yap, Trecartin said. Teachers live in apartments on campus.
Yap, about 16 miles long and four miles wide, is one of four island states of the nation of Micronesia, a U.S. protectorate.
The Adventist Church currently has more than 780 student missionaries serving around the world, Trecartin said.