'Something Just Happened' Was Final Text. Then She Fell

Death of Penn State sophomore Justine Gross ruled accidental
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 19, 2021 8:51 AM CST
Updated Feb 26, 2022 7:30 AM CST
Before Her Plunge, a Text: 'Something Just Happened'
   (Getty Images)

Update: Police have ruled out foul play in the death of a Penn State sophomore who fell to her death down an 11-story garbage chute in her off-campus apartment building. Justine Gross' death has been ruled accidental and the case has been closed, the Centre Daily Times reports. Autopsy results showed she had an "elevated" level of alcohol in her liver at the time of her death, as well as marijuana, PennLive reports. Investigators say she smoked a blunt with a man in his apartment and was too intoxicated to know what she was doing when she went headfirst down the trash chute; surveillance video shows she was alone at the time after the man left her in a hallway. "If he had stayed with her, she’d still be alive today," Gross' mom says. She does not want the case closed, noting that no rape kit was done to check for signs of sexual assault, and would not comment on whether she is considering a lawsuit. Gross' final text remains a mystery. Our original story from Nov. 19, 2021, follows:

A Penn State sophomore from New Jersey died last week after police say she accidentally fell down an 11-story garbage chute, but her mom isn't so sure it was an accident. Per NJ.com, the body of Justine Gross, 19, was found on Nov. 11 by a trash hauler dumping garbage at a Pennsylvania landfill, one day after she'd been reported missing. Francoise Gross says her daughter's roommates told her Justine had met up with a man at the Beaver Terrace apartments where she lived in State College on Nov. 10. Francoise tracked the man down, and he told her he'd given her daughter "a smoke" from a "blunt." The man said Justine had a bad reaction after taking the drug, running away from him and up to the building's top floor, where she inexplicably went down the trash chute. Justine's flip-flops and cellphone were found in a nearby stairwell.

Among the red flags standing out for Francoise: a text her daughter sent to a friend on Snapchat moments before she went down the chute. "Something just happened" was the Nov. 10 message, time-stamped shortly before midnight. Francoise also points to surveillance video from the apartment complex, shown to her by police, that she says shows her daughter leaving her 10th-floor residence, heading down to the man's apartment on the seventh floor, then "walking unsteadily through the hallways" with the man, per NJ.com. The next part of the footage shows Justine suddenly sprinting up to the 11th floor, apparently by herself, and into the room with the chute. "That's just not Justine," her mother says. "She would never do something like that. ... I believe someone was chasing her and she went into the chute, thinking it was a staircase."

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Francoise says State College police aren't releasing enough info on what happened, though they insist they've released just enough to assure everyone there's no threat to public safety, and that it was Francoise Gross herself who asked that they withhold certain details (Francoise denies that). A Penn State spokeswoman says because it's an off-campus case, it's up to State College police on what they release to the public. The Centre County Coroner's Office has deemed Justine's death accidental, calling it an "isolated incident," per the Centre Daily Times. Toxicology reports will take up to six weeks to complete. Onward State reports a candelight vigil was held for Justine Thursday ahead of her funeral this weekend. (More Penn State stories.)

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