Outside Corbett Hall, dozens of CSU students huddled around a lone hookah, gripping candles and bracing against the chilly September night – and against tragedy.
It was a stingray’s barbed, poisonous tail, thousands of miles away, that brought them here – the tail that pierced hearts across the world.
Steve Irwin, 44, better known as “The Crocodile Hunter,” died shortly after 11 a.m. Monday after he was pierced in the chest by a short-tail stingray barb as he snorkeled near Port Douglas in Queensland, Australia.
It was only the third known fatality in Australia from a stingray, and the first since 1945. Irwin was filming for a new series with a cruelly ironic title, “The Ocean’s Deadliest.”
When asked how the vigil in the Corbett Hall courtyard started, Ean Potter, a freshman open-option seeking natural resources major, said, “We were discussing how sad we were over hearing the news about Steve (Irwin). It was a tragedy.”
“We decided we couldn’t let this go,” said Tom Carle, a junior math major. “It was about 1:30 a.m. and I started telling people about the vigil.”
Carle, a Resident Assistant in Corbett and the mastermind behind the ceremony, teamed with Potter to tell people to show up in the courtyard at 10 p.m. Tuesday to commemorate the awesome Aussie.
But not all of the audacious Australian’s friends heard about the impromptu gathering.
“I can’t believe I missed that. I would have totally gone,” said Mike Waesche, a junior fire emergency service management major. “There was this one show where a crocodile gnarly hard-core chomps his foot. And he wasn’t even mad! He was just like ‘Uh, thanks.'”
The Crocodile Hunter always appeared to have fun with his image, which was often considered childlike and irresponsible with his passion for dangerous animals. To show he was a good sport, Irwin appeared in an ESPN commercial this year wrestling Albert E. Gator, the University of Florida’s mascot, to the ground in an ESPN office.
But the Croc Hunter’s job was not “all play, no work.” Headed by Irwin, his operations included the Australia Zoo, which he ran with wife, Terri, his TV series, the “International Crocodile Rescue” and the Steve Irwin Conservation Foundation.
Irwin went on to star in other documentaries, including “New Breed Vets.” In 2005, the show brought Irwin to Denver and Fort Collins, filming episodes with renowned Colorado veterinarians at Alameda East Veterinary Hospital and CSU’s James L. Voss Teaching Hospital.
Irwin was criticized in the past for various instances, including an infamous Michael Jackson-like stunt with his then-infant son. In 2004, Irwin dangled his son, Bob, near a large and seemingly very hungry crocodile.
Viewers held their breath and prayed that he remembered which hand held the chicken carcass and which held his newborn.
But as one student at the Corbett ceremony explained, “Michael (Jackson) can’t get away with something like that, but Steve can.”
CSU’s reaction to Irwin’s death seems to be just as prominent as the rest of the world.
“I can’t believe he died from a stingray,” Waesche said. “I would have thought he’d die in the jaws of an alligator.”
“He was definitely intense,” CSU alum Nevin Ashley said, concurring with his friend Waesche.
Just as fast as CSU junior Kyle Bell started the Fum’s Song Facebook group, clusters dedicated to the Croc Hunter popped up all over the country. Sophomore business major Aaron Rice created “We will miss you CROCODILE HUNTER!” while “I hate stingrays because they killed the Croc Hunter,” and “Steve Irwin’s Crikey Croc Memorial” were just some of the several hundred groups created on Facebook.
“(The group) was not actually a joke,” Rice said. “I watched him all the time when I was younger.”
So why start a group on Facebook?
“Me and my buddies went to Australia and went to his zoo; we were very impressed by it,” Rice said, who is currently spending the semester at the University of Hawaii. “I thought it’d be cool to pay tribute to him this way. Tell people to join.”
Even regarding death, Irwin showed a sense of humor.
“My number one rule is to keep that camera rolling,” Irwin once said to reporters. “Even if a big old alligator is chewing me up I want to go down and go, ‘Crikey!’ just before I die. That would be the ultimate for me.”
“I wonder if he did say that,” Waesche said.
“Maybe they’ll show the footage and we might find out,” Ashley chimed in.
Either way, our beloved Crocodile Hunter has moved on to tackle crocs in that big swamp in the sky.
And CSU students will miss him.
Head copy editor Nicole Durham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.