Iowa Student Dies After Being Found Outside as Extreme Temps Believed Responsible for 8 Deaths

Gerald Belz was found unresponsive outside of a University of Iowa building early on Wednesday morning.
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Gerald Belz, an 18-year-old University of Iowa student, was found unresponsive by campus police outside of a campus building just before 3 a.m. local time on Wednesday morning, as an extreme arctic freeze grips the Midwest.

Belz, who was in his second semester at the university and hailed originally from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, was transported to a hospital, where he later died, a spokesperson for the University of Iowa told PEOPLE.

The spokesperson added that no foul play is suspected. In an interview with local CBS affiliate KGAN, Belz’s family said doctors had confirmed that he did not have any alcohol in his system at the time.

Though the investigation into Belz’s death is ongoing, officials believe the cause of death is weather-related.

The wind chill at the time university police found Belz outside was -51 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the National Weather Service.

The Midwest, from the Dakotas to Western New York, is experiencing some of the coldest temperatures to hit the region in more than two decades, according to The Weather Channel. On Wednesday morning, it was -23 degrees Fahrenheit in Chicago, and the National Weather Service recorded -30 in Wisconsin. The negative temperatures extend as far south as Kentucky, and according to The Weather Channel, things won’t get milder until the weekend.

This type of bone-chilling cold can be life-threatening. As many as eight deaths have already been reported in the U.S. as of Thursday morning, according to the New York Times

On Tuesday morning, the National Weather Service in Des Moines, Iowa, warned residents about the cold air, adding that anyone outside should “minimize talking.”

“Make sure your mouth is covered to protect your lungs from severely cold air,” the NWS said, according to USA Today. “Avoid taking deep breaths; minimize talking.”

“This is the coldest air many of us will have ever experienced. It’s not a case of ‘Meh, it’s Iowa during winter and this cold happens.’ These are record-breaking cold air temperatures, with wind chill values not seen in the 21st century in Iowa.”

Belz’ father, Michael Belz, described his son as a “quiet, tough guy,” according to local station KCRG. He also told KCCI-TV of Des Moines that his son wanted to be a cardiologist.

The University of Iowa tweeted out a tribute to Belz, writing, “saddened by the loss of a member of the Hawkeye family.”

“Losing a fellow student and member of our university family is difficult,” the university spokesperson told PEOPLE. “We encourage our students to reach out if they are in need of support.”

“I want people to remember him as a compassionate person,” Michael Belz told KCCI-TV. “He had many more friends than I was aware of. He didn’t bring many friends over to the house, but we knew he had lots of friends.”



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