As regular readers of this blog probably already know, I worked in Dickinson, N.D., prior to coming to Worthington and the Daily Globe in April 2001. And, as anyone who regularly watches the news probably already knows, Dickinson was the site of a terrible tragedy this past week.

News of the disappearance of three Dickinson State University softball players – Kyrstin Gemar, 22, of San Diego; Afton Williamson, 20, of Lake Elsinore, Calif.; and Ashley Neufeld, 21, of Brandon, Manitoba – was the talk of our newsroom here Tuesday morning. The Dickinson Press, a sister newspaper of the Globe‘s, had an extensive article about the missing young women, and I had actually first learned of the news early Tuesday through a posting from a Facebook friend who works for a Dickinson radio station. A few of us checked regulary Tuesday for updates, fearing the worst but nevertheless hoping the trio would be located safe and sound.

Sadly, later on that day, the three DSU students were found dead, trapped inside the jeep they were traveling in – and called frantically from late Sunday, moments before descending into a 10-feet-deep pond. Gemar, Williamson and Neufeld reportedly enjoyed stargazing together, and apparently lost their bearings in the dark of night and drove into the pond. No foul play is suspected.

While I’d like to think I would have had some reaction to this sad news regardless of my previous time in Dickinson, there’s no doubt that the news of the women’s deaths floored me. Prior to working at the Press, I was employed in DSU’s university relations office for nearly two years, and enjoyed the opportunity to work side-by-side with many fine students, faculty and staff. And, as a resident of Dickinson for more than four years, I came to enjoy the community very much, and got to know many caring people there.

When learning of the three deaths, I couldn’t stop picturing an entire college, and a community, in deep mourning. People talk about Minnesota Nice, but North Dakotans are more than worthy of a similar label. And even though most of the state east of Fargo and Grand Forks is met with derision by many, I would not hesitate to recommend southwest North Dakota as a great place to live and raise a family.

My thoughts and prayers will with be the families of the three players – as well as the family of students, faculty and staff at DSU, and the entire city of Dickinson – for several days, I’m sure.