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No signs of foul play in death of Gannon student from Zelienople

| Monday, Feb. 3, 2014, 1:27 p.m.
Abbie Brynda, 21, of Zelienople pictured with Natalie Menzl(right), a girl who she helped raise money to provide a service dog. Brynda, a Gannon University junior, died Saturday in Erie. The case is still under investigation. Submitted by family.

A Zelienople resident who died at Gannon University was not attacked or victimized, though what caused her death is unclear, authorities said on Monday.

“There were no signs of foul play,” Erie County Coroner Lyell Cook said. “The results were consistent with hypothermia.”

Abrielle Marie Brynda, 21, who went by Abbie, was last seen about 3 a.m. Saturday at a house party on West 12th Street in downtown Erie. Her family reported her missing about 3:30 p.m. when they went to visit her and her twin, Vanessa, in Gannon, police Chief Randy Bowers said. A family member found her lying on the ground between two buildings at 4 p.m. Her coat and purse were inside the apartment where the party was held.

“There were no beefs, no arguments at the party. There were no strangers there,” he said. “There is no explanation for her being where she was, other than she walked there.”

Doctors at UPMC Hamot pronounced her dead about 9 p.m. It could take up to a month for the coroner's office to receive blood and tissue tests to determine how and why Brynda died, Cook said. Blood found at the scene was from superficial scrapes and cuts consistent with a fall, he said.

Police interviewed about 25 people and hope to talk to several others, Bowers said.

“It was unlike Abbie not to be surrounded by people,” said her older sister, Carrie Wharrey, 28, of Zelienople. “For anyone not to see her for a few hours was suspicious.”

Wharrey declined to discuss the events surrounding her sister's death.

“Her death was a tragedy,” she said. “Her life certainly was not.”

Brynda, a 2011 graduate of Seneca Valley High School, was a junior studying nursing and a member of Sigma Sigma Sigma sorority. As a teen, she traveled on mission trips and involved herself with service projects through Crestview Community Church, her family's congregation in Callery in Butler County.

She backpacked through Europe for her senior trip with family and friends.

For her senior project, Brynda raised $7,000 to help provide a service dog from “4 Paws for Ability” for a girl she befriended while working summers as a classroom assistant at The Watson Institute, a Sewickley school for children with special needs.

Brynda wanted to become a nurse to work with children who have disabilities, Wharrey said.

“She was caring and generous,” Wharrey said. “She had a smile that lit up the room.”

Brynda enjoyed making handmade gifts and often gathered her sorority sisters to make crafts, Wharrey said.

“She played a big role in the sisterhood of the sorority,” she said.

Alexis Tamok, president of the sorority's Epsilon Delta chapter, said through an email that she and fellow members were “deeply saddened and heartbroken over Abbie's death” and thanked people for attending a memorial service held Sunday on campus.

“We will always remember her as a generous, caring member of Tri Sigma,” Tamok wrote.

Jason Cato is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7936 or

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