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Sacred Heart University student dies after choking at pancake-eating contest

FAIRFIELD — A 20-year-old Connecticut college student whose father was killed in the Sept. 11 attacks has died after choking during a pancake-eating contest.

Caitlin Nelson

Police say Caitlin Nelson died at a New York City hospital on Sunday, three days after participating in the contest at Sacred Heart University. She was from Clark, New Jersey, and was majoring in social work at the Catholic school in Fairfield.

"I think we start to realize how precious life is and how we should value it," said Andrew Starr, a Sacred Heart Sophomore.

"Whether or not that was a combination of some sort of anaphylactic shock...combined with food...I don't think we really know," said Fairfield Police Chief Gary MacNamara.

"The officers were on scene desperately, desperately trying to help her, and they were unable to do so. And I think that will stay with the officers -- some of whom have daughters themselves -- for quite some time," said MacNamara.

"The priest said, despite it being...hard that you don't understand why these things happen, you just have to keep moving forward and understand she's in heaven now. Everyone came out for support. The mass was packed. We couldn't even fit into the church," said Joseph Keane, a Sacred Heart Sophomore

Officials say the contest was part of a fraternities and sororities event.

Fairfield police say nursing students and first responders performed lifesaving measures, and Nelson was taken to a hospital in critical condition. She was moved to a New York hospital on Friday.

Students remembered Nelson during a candlelight vigil on campus Sunday.

Her father, James, was a Port Authority police officer who died on 9/11.