James Madison softball player Lauren Bernett, who helped the Dukes reach last year's Women's College World Series, has died at age 20. The school announced her death Tuesday, and the following day Rockingham County Sheriff Bryan Hutcheson classified it as an apparent suicide, according to the Associated Press.
Hutcheson declined to give any further details, but he said an investigation into Bernett's death is ongoing.
"The official report from the medical examiner's office is pending, and out of respect for her family and friends, there is no other information to release at this time," Hutcheson told the AP via email.
In a joint statement announcing Bernett's death, JMU president Jonathan Alger and athletic director Jeff Bourne said their "hearts are aching" over the death of Bernett, whom they described as "a high-achieving member of our softball team and a great ambassador of JMU and our athletics program."
"We are grateful that Lauren has been part of our JMU Athletics community and will always consider her to be a Duke," their statement read. "We will miss her dearly.
"Our thoughts are with her family; her coaches, teammates and friends; the rest of our department staff and student-athletes; and the entire JMU community. JMU Nation is a close community, and we grieve together."
The release also announced the cancellation of JMU softball's Wednesday doubleheader against Longwood and offered several mental-health resources. On the day that doubleheader was set to take place, the Dukes announced this weekend's three-game series against Delaware is also cancelled.
The announcement of Bernett's death came a day after the Colonial Athletic Association named her its Player of the Week. The sophomore catcher earned the honor Monday after going 7-for-9 with seven RBIs and four runs scored, including a home run, during a three-game sweep of Drexel this past weekend.
To honor Bernett, Liberty and Tennessee -- who both played JMU in last season's NCAA Regionals -- wore purple ribbons during their softball game Wednesday. Liberty, the host school, also painted Bernett's initials and number onto the field.
Many of Bernett's teammates shared their reactions to the tragic news on social media. Utility player Kayla Boseman wrote Bernett will "never be forgotten" while catcher/outfielder Emily Phillips added she's going to miss her "more than anything." Pitcher Meredith Wells called Bernett "a light to so many." Fellow pitcher Alexis Bermudez tweeted she loves Bernett and hopes she's "with all the puppies (she) can handle."
Infielder Jasmine Hall shared a video of herself singing with Bernett, adding she'll "always cherish" the time she had with her.
Lauren,— jasmine (@jasminehall_10) April 26, 2022
You have made such a big impact on this team not only as a player but as a person. I am so thankful that you were put in my life, and I will always cherish the time I had with you on the field and off the field. I love you forever and always. Fly high sweet girl🤍🕊 pic.twitter.com/p9Mf4pub8m
A day after pitcher Alissa Humphrey tweeted the news of Bernett's death "really hurts," the sophomore wrote about how her light continues to shine.
Former JMU star Odicci Alexander, Softball America's 2021 Pitcher of the Year, wrote "Love you LB" with a broken heart emoji two minutes before tweeting "You really never know what someone is going through."