'Tragic accident:' UVA student dies in fall from roof

Thomas W. Gilliam IV's last day alive had been "magnificent," says his grandfather. The 19-year-old UVA student went to church with his grandparents and his father, who was in town for dental work from Ireland, where the family lived. They went out to lunch and then he worked on his resume with his dad. They went to a performance of Celtic Woman at John Paul Jones Arena Sunday night, March 27, and dropped Tom off at his dorm at 10pm.

"He said he had to finish a paper," says Tom Gilliam Jr., the young man's grandfather.

Two hours later, he was dead, the victim of what authorities believe was an accidental fall from the roof of the Physics Building.

"He slipped and fell," says his grandfather.

An emergency call came in at 11:15pm, Gilliam was taken from the McCormick Road building at 11:38pm, and he arrived at the UVA Medical Center at 11:43pm, where he died.

"At this time, we do not believe that either foul play or alcohol were involved," says UVA spokesperson Carol Wood in a release. "Nor do we believe that this was a suicide. Investigators believe it was a tragic accident." An autopsy is being performed.

UVA police are investigating the incident, and issued a statement Monday night that the east door of the Physics Building was compromised, and that Gilliam entered through that door and opened the main door to let in other students.

"Unfortunately, with the snow and rain on Saturday and Sunday, the roof of the Physics Building was especially wet and slippery," says Lieutenant Melissa Fielding. "When Mr. Gilliam tried to walk along a part of the shingled roof, he was unable to keep his footing and fell 40 feet to the concrete below."

Fielding also says, "We are aware that there is a group of University students who try to enter secured spaces on Grounds as part of a challenge. They do so illegally and at great risk to their personal safety."

A website entitled "The Bold and the Ruthless" details how to access forbidden spaces at the university, including the Physics Building.

"As far as we know, [Gilliam] had no affiliation with our organization," says Steve Norum, a fourth-year student with the Bold and the Ruthless who calls exploration of UVA's secured spaces "very very common."

While extolling the rooftop views and providing steam tunnel maps, the website informs students that trespassing is a Class 1 misdemeanor and offers a contact number if someone is lost or stuck, but urges dialing 911 if anyone is injured.

"This is certainly a great tragedy," says Norum, who advises, "Always remember safety; and ask, 'Could this potentially end badly?' If so, don't do it."

Will Gilliam's death change the thrill of entering forbidden places?

"If you look at all the college activities people do, people die from drinking," says Norum. "They still do that."

Gilliam spent his early years in Charlottesville, where his grandparents live. He attended Meriwether Lewis Elementary in Ivy through the fifth grade, says his grandfather. Then his parents, who are missionaries, moved to Dublin, Ireland, seven years ago, and he graduated from secondary school there. He returned to Charlottesville to attend the University of Virginia, where his father was a 1985 graduate and a 1990 graduate of Darden.

The first-year student was enrolled in the College of Arts and Sciences and wanted to be a foreign policy major, according to his Facebook page.

"He was an outstanding boy," says Tom Gilliam Jr. He was going to be a resident advisor in his dorm next year, and had been invited to march in UVA President Teresa Sullivan's April 15 inauguration ceremony.

"It's one of those horrible, horrible events of life," says his grandfather, who lost his youngest grandson in a drowning accident about three years ago. "It's just a very, very sad situation."

Updated 5:10pm.

Updated March 29 with additional University Police information and the Bold and the Ruthless.

Correction: Gilliam attended a private school in Ireland, not a public one as originally reported.

Original post:

A University of Virginia student fell from the roof of the Physics Building last night and died from those injuries.

An emergency call came in at 11:15pm. The student was taken from the McCormick Road building at 11:38 pm and arrived at the UVA Medical Center at 11:43pm, where he died.

The name of the student has not been released, and UVA police are investigating the incident, according to a release.


Read more on: student deathUVA


The UVA police should not be handleing a case with a death involved they proved they cannot handle any case beyond a petty larceny.

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I agree there is ample evidence that UVA police should not be the lead investigative agency .

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They should stick to steam tunneling.

Very sad for the student's family.

I should hope that comments going forward can be more tasteful than "It's Physics that killed him".

Yeah, that's my friend you're talking about it - show some respect. All of us in Ireland are devastated by this news.

He was a very close friend of mine. I my family went to church with his family for 5 years when we were little. Please dont say stupid stuff about the accident. It is not funny at all. This is a very hard time for his family and we all need to pray for them. His family does mission work in Ireland. PRAY

Why was he on the roof to start with?

Tons of kids go up on the roofs of the buildings, and virtually nothing ever happens as a result. He wasn't doing something reckless by being just being on the roof.

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What is wrong with some of you? Please be more respectful. My thoughts go out to his family, especially since it sounds like they lost another grandson three years ago. I'm really sorry.

My deepest sympathies to the family. This is a tragedy. Why he was on the roof doesn't matter -- any of us that went to college did at least one thing that, in retrospect, was stupid or reckless and, but for the grace of God, we would have been hurt or killed ourselves. I'm so sorry for the loss of this promising young man.

Yes it is tragic but it does matter why he was on the roof and being out there is reckless. I don't think UVa has approved people going out on the roof of any of their buildings.

The bigger question is how does one "accidentally slip" off the physics roof?? The physics roof has walls about 3-4 feet high if I'm thinking of the correct roof......

I'm an alumnus and frequently an apologist, but it's going too far. We went up on the water tower, but no one died. And if it's the old physics building, A is right - it looks like the old dorms. Why should the kids still be up there!

UVA Police are investigating this incident.

That is also a tragedy. A questionable death on a campus needs to be expertly handled by those trained in proper investigative techniques. local law enforcement should be called in to assist, collaborate, and/or take over the lead of the investigation.

Unless local law enforcement is allowed to investigate, the circumstances may never be known.

The VA Crime Commission will study the proposed HB2490 this coming summer. President Sullivan, I urge you to show the crime Commission that you support HB2490!

Tennessee enacted Robbie's Law in 2004 after a college student died from an "accidental fall" from a balcony. A campus police investigation was unable to conclusively determine what led to his death.


This kid was one of my closest friends and when I heard about it at school, I was extremely sad. I shook his hand at church that day. Extremely tragic and saddening. Rip Tommy Gilliam...

Its funny how a black man gets murdered 5 blocks from UVA in the projects doesnt even get 1 line on the readthehook website but a white UVA student falls off a building and dies and its covered front page news.

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I know what Forrest Gump would say about this.

This was so shocking. I grew up with this guy.....he was a good friend. We will miss him terribly.

May you see God's light on the path ahead
When the road you walk is dark.
May you always hear,
Even in your hour of sorrow,
The gentle singing of the lark.
When times are hard may hardness
Never turn your heart to stone,
May you always remember
when the shadows fall—
You do not walk alone.
- Irish Prayer

Very tragic case. RIP

It is ironic to see that missionaries are now going to Ireland, when for the past several hundred years you could find Irish missionaries (including my grandparent's two sisters to Kenya) all over the world.

According to the Progress, this young man was part of a secret illegal "exploration society" who broke into university buildings and wrote of their explouits inline. In this case, it appears that they broke into a locked door to gain access to the Physics building.

If that proves to be the case, I wonder if honor charges will be brought against the other students who accompanied him onto the roof?

And this web-site tells UVA students how to break into buildings, a fact that was apparently known by UVA police and administration,
since this blog has been around since 2009

Roof of Physics & Gilmore Building

"The Physics Building is an interesting one. It can be entered after hours via the steam tunnels, but that is too elaborate for me if all I want to do is get to the roof (being the lazy guy that I am). I prefer to jimmy the latch of the front door. It can literally be done in 0.5 seconds.

I will not tell you actually how to get onto the roof because its fairly simple if you think hard enough, and also I think it's more fun to figure things out on your own. A third reason (whether it's unlikely or not) would be that I would not want faculty to shut down the way up.......and "shut down" gives you a big clue on how to get there. "


Poor guy, I go to the "public school" in Dublin that he went to. We had to say a prayer for him and I comforted my friends who were quite close to him. R.I.P. Tommy.

Not Honor Committee, but maybe the Judiciary Committee

And you thought kissing the Blarney Stone was dangerous!

A more informative Website on how to B&E at UVa is The Bold and the Ruthless at

My wife and I learned of Gilliam's death through a missionary we support in Uganda. Because we lost our own son and only child ten years ago when he was only 13 years old, we feel great compassion for this young man's parents, friends, and loved ones. Knowing his parents are Christians, we are confident that God's grace will carry them:
- Carry them in the midst of the worst agony they will ever feel.
- Carry them throughout the most intense spiritual testing they will ever experience.
- Carry them into the most intense zeal for communion with God they will ever know.
- Carry them across the boundaries that would otherwise keep them from understanding the suffering of others.
- Carry them into greater capacity for ministry.
- Carry them into the greatest privilege we have this side of heaven: to trust God unconditionally, to trust God in the dark.
Meanwhile, God has carried them into our very hearts as we hold them up with continual and fervent prayers.

A helpful post for the initial days of grief is called "The Early Days," found at http://www.agapeindia.com/steve/earlydays.htm

I went to the "public school" Tommy went to. It was announced in chapel this morning. The Chapel, and the school, has never been so silent. The girls bathrooms were full of people who knew him, trying to pull themselves together before class. My history teacher pointed to a chair and said " He sat there 10 times a week last year. Please don't cause chaos today of all days."
The flags flew at half mast.
Though I know his younger brother, I didn't know him well...the only memories I have are of him in the school play, and smiling as he manned the American booth (decked out in a straw hat and a smile.) on multi-cultural day last year. Yet, this still left me devastated.
To the boy who touched the lives of so many, and left the halls of Kings Hospital ringing with silence when he left this earth.

Is Steve Norum of The Bold and the Ruthless related to Ben Norum, faculty member in the Department of Physics at UVA?

Is Steve Norum of The Bold and the Ruthless related to Ben Norum, faculty member in the Department of Physics at UVA?

It does not make sense to me that Virginians would go to Ireland to do missionary work.

Shouldn't the Irish go to Virginia to do this?

@ Frau Detmolders -- it should make perfect sense. Christians have been going "back" to old mission fields since the very beginning. In fact, it was Irish saints (1500 years ago) who "re-Christianized" Europe during the dark ages.

Sadly, it's Ireland that needs missionaries now.

God bless the boy I remember as Tommy. Be sure to kiss your sweet mom when she sees you again... you crazy kid.

Correction: Gilliam attended a private school in Ireland, not a public one as originally reported.<<<<

Not sure about Ireland but in England I believe "public school" equates to our "private" school.

@Project Kid, I have to disagree with your playing the race card. It's more about the different treatment of something that is heard in the news frequently and something that is unusual or infrequent -- so sad to say, but that's the reality. If the UVa student had been black, the media coverage received would have been the same for this unfortunate incident.

People tend to "tune out" bad news after a while. For example, I no longer "hear" when local media talks about UVa football or basketball, because the news is usually bad and thinking about the four wasted years for those student athletes is painful as is watching their games.

The fact that something happens repeatedly also means it's no longer considered news. It has become "business as usual." Not saying that's right. Just saying that that's the way it is with human nature. There is a perception and an expectation, so when it happens, that isn't viewed as news.

Its very tragic. Was the other person who drowned Tom's brother or cousin?

@AJ: It was his cousin Jude who died a few years ago. Very tragic. Like Tom, the cousin was a great, great person.

Huge sympathy and heart-felt prayers to the family.

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