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Chapman University to honor tornado victim Will Norton

May 31, 2011

Chapman University will remember Will Norton, the incoming freshman film major from Joplin, Mo. who died in the May 22 tornado that struck that city, with a memorial event in his honor this August during fall Orientation Week, Chapman President Jim Doti announced today. President Doti also said that Norton’s name will be inscribed on the Wall of Student Honor in the Chapman University Columbarium.

Will Norton (Photo/Family of Will Norton)

The 18-year-old budding filmmaker had been accepted into Chapman’s highly competitive Dodge College of Film and Media Arts as a film production major, and would have started classes when the fall semester begins this August.  During the EF5 tornado that devastated Joplin on May 22, Norton, who was driving back home from his high school graduation with his father, was pulled out of the sunroof of their vehicle by the force of the storm.  After a days-long search, his body was finally discovered in a pond near where the vehicle had flipped.

“In spite of fading hopes that Will would be found alive, the finality of his loss was truly tragic,” said President Doti.  “The fact that he will not be joining our university this August means that our learning community has lost a vibrant and original spirit.  The hearts of everyone in our Chapman community go out to Will’s family and friends in this time of immeasurable loss.”

Further details of the memorial event and Wall of Honor inscription will be released as plans are finalized.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. Doreen Dimitri permalink
    May 31, 2011 3:51 pm

    I think that this is absolutely amazing of Chapman University to do this for Will. I do not know Will or his family, but when Will’s Aunt started a Facebook page to help find him, I followed every post day by day. When I heard that Will was found, my heart broke for his family. He was so young, talented, loved, caring, funny, and enthusiastic about life. I know that his family will be so grateful that you are doing this for him.

  2. Donna Attallah permalink
    June 2, 2011 7:20 pm

    As a member of the Board of Trustees of Chapman University, my heart went out to the family of Will. Though I have never met him, as a member of the Chapman family I feel the loss of a vibrant, enthusiastic youth and what he would have contributed to our spirited school. May God bring peace and comfort to Will’s family as they cope with this heartbreaking loss.

  3. John Kabala permalink
    June 3, 2011 4:36 am

    As a parent of an incoming Chapman freshman, I think what President Doti and the University are doing is kind and compassionate. I am sure that Will’s family appreciates this outreach of support for their son. I have heard so much about this young man in the news that I feel as though he is truly a member of the Chapman family.

    God Bless President Doti, the Board of Trustees, and Staff. You are all very special people.


    Sgt. John Kabala
    Chapman University Department of Public Safety

  4. June 3, 2011 7:29 pm

    Experiencing the desperate search for Will Norton via national news and Facebook was an emotional roller coaster. Will’s connection to Chapman University made the horrific natural disaster in Joplin feel very personal for me. It made me empathize with the many families enduring such deeply personal losses.

    Through the “Help Find Will Norton” page on Facebook, I even began to think of Will and his family (especially Aunt Tracey) as people I knew… as people I cared about on a deeper level. They shared so much passion, hope and love with everyone over the last week. Even though I have never met them, I mourn in their loss.

    I am glad that Chapman is helping to celebrate the life of this promising young man by inscribing his name on the student wall in the columbarium. Clearly, Will Norton should be with us. He has touched our hearts.

  5. Pete Curran permalink
    June 5, 2011 8:10 am

    As an Orange County resident and emergency management worker who saw first hand the damage in Joplin last week, I was personally caught up with Will’s story and feel most proud that President Doti and the Board of Trustees have chosen to honor Will in this manner. After hearing that Will was to start at Chapman in the Fall, I was curious if the University would be making an official statement. The memorial event announced by Chapman for the Fall is a true class act !!

    Bravo Chapman !

    Pete Curran

    • June 6, 2011 9:10 am

      Hi, Pete, and thanks so much for your comments. Yes, President Doti made an official statement (included in the article above), and the university will probably issue another statement when the details of the memorial event are announced. – Chapman Happenings Staff

  6. Mark norton permalink
    June 6, 2011 7:43 am

    Dear chapman and president Doti
    I’m wills father
    I haven’t been well enough to call Pres Doti in person yet but will this week
    We had a wonderful celebration of wills life yesterday and hope to share that with you soon
    I was able to attend and am so very proud!
    Will was truly a blessing for all if us
    The more you will learn about him, the more you will understand how wonderful he was
    He loved chapman and that was everything he thought about lately
    I promise I’ll be available if and when needed and would be honored to attend the event this august
    Your comments and thoughts are very much appreciated
    will’s dad

    • Dana Sexton permalink
      June 8, 2011 6:33 pm

      Dear Mark,

      My daughter is an Admissions Counselor at Chapman. Together, we followed your story and hoped for the best each and every day of the search. Please know how much the Orange County community kept your family in our thoughts – and will continue to do so. His loss will truly be felt throughout the country.


      • Mark norton permalink
        June 12, 2011 8:23 pm

        Thank you Dana
        I hope chapman gets to know our son. He was so looking forward to attending. He was such a truly amazing young man and we are so blessed to have had 18 wonderful years with him.

  7. June 7, 2011 5:11 pm

    It is at a time like this that Chapman is so close to its founders, men and women of compassion who wanted this school to care for the whole person. I am grateful to President Doti for leading out in this way.
    Rev. Nancy Brink, Director of Church Relations

  8. Tracey Presslor permalink
    July 26, 2011 2:04 pm

    President Doti,

    Thank you so much for doing this for my nephew and his family. I have confidence that Will would have made Chapman very proud if he had been able to join you in person this August. He was not only a very talented young man but an incredible young man. We as a family were very proud of all he had done. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

    Tracey Presslor (his very proud Aunt)

  9. Guest permalink
    July 27, 2011 6:10 pm

    Tracey – Thank you so much for your kind and thoughtful note. I hope I will have the opportunity to meet you at the memorial service. Jim Doti

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