The university mourns death of freshman


Photo courtesy of Boone Funeral Home

Jacob “Jake” Gwaltney was a friend, brother and freshman at the university, He was gentle, kind and funny.

Shelby Clark, Editor-in-Chief

The university community is mourning the death of a student. 

Jacob “Jake” Gwaltney, freshman undecided major, passed away on Sept. 9, 2021, at his home. 

Gwaltney, 21, of Newburgh, Indiana, died from suicide, according to Sarah Seaton, Warrick County coroner. 

He liked to travel, skateboard, lift weights and spend time with his family and friends. He was known for his gentleness and kindness. 

Jake was born Dec. 28, 1999, to Guy Gwaltney and Melissa Gwaltney-Shehorn, according to his obituary

When Brian Shehorn first met Jake at Newburgh Elementary School, they were both in kindergarten. 

Jake and Brian grew up together as grade school friends. Brian said he was at Jake’s house all the time when they were kids, and they bonded by playing basketball and video games. 

Through their friendship their parents met. In 2015, Jake and Brian became stepbrothers when Brian’s father, Tim Shehorn, and Jake’s mom were married.

Jake and Brian had a special relationship as classmates, friends and stepbrothers. 

Brian remembers how kind Jake was. “He never really said anything mean about anybody ever.”  

Brian’s favorite memories of Jake are from their family vacations, and he remembers one specific vacation at Yellowstone National Park in 2016. 

The family was on a hike, and at the end of the hike they saw an animal that resembled a groundhog “plop” down flat on a log. Jake took “a really funny picture of it, and it was perfect timing.”  

Brian said you would know if you were in Jake’s inner-circle because he would share his humor with you. He had a good sense of humor and made his family and friends laugh. 

“He had a really good Donald Trump impression that we all really appreciated,” said Brian. “It was really funny.”

Baxter Annakin, a close friend of Jake, also said Jake was “super funny” because he had good comedic timing. He was known for his funny impersonations and a “really solid Donald Trump impersonation.”

Baxter met Jake in elementary school, and they became close friends in high school. Jake and his friends would skateboard, lift weights and play video games together. 

He said Jake would have them laughing for ten minutes straight. 

Baxter said when guys joke around with each other, sometimes it can go too far and get on people’s nerves, but Jake never even joked about anything close to something that could hurt you. 

“He’s so gentle,” said Baxter. “You always felt like you were in a safe place when talking with him.”

Jake was a deep thinker who loved people. He was quiet if you didn’t know him, but Baxter said once you got to know him he would share his “mindset of the world” and his faith in God.  

Jake was a Christian, and Baxter said Jake truly lived out his faith with his gentle spirit, willingness to listen and care for people.

“I always felt safe to share with him because I knew it was a safe place, but he also cared,” said Baxter. “You know you don’t always feel that way with people.”

Jake also enjoyed journaling, writing poems and drawing sketches. He was teaching himself Russian, Korean and Mandarin. 

He graduated from Castle High School in 2018. Jake was attending the university with his stepbrother Brian.

 President Ronald Rochon announced the news of Jake’s death in an email to the university community Sept. 10, 2021. 

“My very deepest condolences go out to Mr. Jacob Gwaltney’s family, friends, classmates, faculty and staff,” said Rochon. 

Anna Ardelean, president of Student Government Association, said the university community mourns the loss of Jake. 

“Every single person at USI makes USI what it is,” said Ardelean. “So, every time we lose a single person, USI changes.” 

Ardelean said during these times, it’s important to know “we always have people who are rooting for us to be successful and happy.” 

“We are a better place because of the people who we have here, and we’re a better place because we’re all together,” said Ardelean. “We all share in this loss, we’re all mourning together.”

Brian said if Jake’s story can help anybody else, “that would make us all feel a little bit better.” 

Students who need support can contact the Dean of Students Office at 812-464-1862 or the Counseling and Psychological Service at 812-464-1867 or use the online form to schedule an appointment. Students can find more resources here

Brian encourages people to reach out for help, “More people care about you than you think.”