GRAND FORKS -- The University of North Dakota campus is reeling after recently retired Provost Tom DiLorenzo was shot and killed Friday morning, July 17, in Charleston, S.C.
DiLorenzo was with his wife, Suzanne Austin, the College of Charleston’s new appointed provost, at approximately 6:15 a.m. when two men armed with a handgun demanded money from the couple in downtown Charleston.
DiLorenzo was shot during the robbery attempt and was taken to a local hospital, where he died, according to a police report. Austin wasn’t injured.
The investigation is ongoing.
Late Friday night, Charleston Police announced the arrests of two juvenile males. The suspects, ages 15 and 16, have both been charged with murder and attempted armed robbery. One is also charged with possession of a deadly weapon during the commission of a violent crime.
The news, which broke around noon Friday, sent shockwaves across UND and the Greater Grand Forks community. The incident became national news, with at least one national network reporting it during a 5:30 p.m. newscast.
DiLorenzo, 63, retired as provost of UND on June 1 after having been at the university for seven years.
His death comes six weeks after he retired from UND and a few weeks after he and his wife moved to Charleston.
Joshua Wynne, former interim president of UND and dean of the medical school, remembered DiLorenzo for his hard-working nature and commitment to UND.
“To earn your retirement and then six weeks later be gone is incredibly sad,” Wynne said. “I'm sure he was working until the minute he walked out the door and locked it.”
“He cared deeply about UND,” Debbie Storrs, interim provost at UND, said. "He encouraged us to think differently, look forward and envision a better university. He was committed to equity and hired many women into leadership positions.”
Storrs said DiLorenzo’s “new adventure was abruptly ended.”
“It is hard to put to words the sadness, especially in the world we live in today,” she said. “He will be missed. His impression on UND is felt, and we will continue to think forward.”
Gracie Lian, former student body president, said she was in a state of shock Friday after hearing the news.
“He was always so warm and welcoming and ready to listen to the student voice, which I think was so important,” Lian said, speaking of her time interacting with DiLorenzo. “He really did care about student opinion on things.”
Lian said she was especially impressed with DiLorenzo’s leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic as he was wrapping up his final months at UND. She said he was always reaching out to student leaders to ensure they were comfortable with the plans.
“Tom worked tirelessly to help better UND,” Matthew Ternus, UND student body president, told the Herald.
He said DiLorenzo was “always a caring person” who was “ready to listen.”
“Tom was a servant leader during his time at UND,” he said.
DiLorenzo served under presidents Robert Kelley and Mark Kennedy during his time at UND. He also served under interim presidents Ed Schafer and Wynne.
He arrived at UND in 2013 and worked to advance and lead initiatives to increase student retention and improve graduation rates. He was a central figure in the development of UND's strategic plan.
When his retirement was announced in February he was lauded for his work with UND’s budget and knowledge of the university.
“With his superhuman work ethic, Tom gave his heart and soul to the university up until his very last day at UND,” said UND President Andrew Armacost, who assumed the president's role in June. “He led the university’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. He initiated programs that strengthened ties between UND and the Grand Forks community. And to improve the academic experience for UND students, he implemented programs that have resulted in better graduation and retention rates. Tom did all that was asked of him and then more. It was the kind of person he was.”
During his time as interim president, Wynne effectively had three jobs: interim president, dean of the medical school and vice president of health affairs. Wynne said DiLorenzo made those jobs a little easier.
“I think it's a true statement to say that I would not have been able to do all three of those jobs if it were not for the outstanding efforts of Provost DiLorenzo,” Wynne said. “He was incredibly hard working, of high integrity and tried to do the right thing.”
North Dakota University System Chancellor Mark Hagerott said DiLorenzo was killed in an “act of senseless violence.” He said DiLorenzo was a key leader at UND.
“He was a source of stability for UND,” he said. “He was also an intellectual leader in North Dakota as he pioneered new programs in robotics, cyber science and digital analytics.”
Hagerott met DiLorenzo when Hagerott was serving at the U.S. Naval Academy Cyber Center, and said DiLorenzo was the first academic leader who encouraged him to return to North Dakota to serve in the university system.
Former UND President Mark Kennedy also expressed sadness Friday.
“Tom cared,” Kennedy said in a statement. “He cared about his family. He cared about delivering on the mission of higher education to open up opportunities for students and the community.”
DiLorenzo “championed innovations” that led to greater access to higher education for students, Kennedy said.
“It was never about him, it was about the students, the faculty, the university,” he said. “The world is a better place because Tom lived.”
Grand Forks Mayor Brandon Bochenski said the news of DiLorenzo’s death “came as a great shock to our community.” Bochenski said he and his wife, Jenny, are praying for DiLorenzo’s family and friends, “as well as the many in Grand Forks that were fortunate to have known him.”
“Because of Dr. DiLorenzo’s dedication and the bonds he created, the path has been paved for a bright and prosperous future on campus and with UND’s partners,” Bochenski said. “Our community could not have been more blessed to have had such a strong advocate and leader.”
Grand Forks City Administrator Todd Feland said he had the “honor and privilege” to work closely with DiLorenzo on a handful of strategic projects “that are now hallmarks of the Grand Forks Town and Gown relationship.”
Feland pointed to the internship program between the city and the university, research partnerships, the Coulee to Columbia infrastructure project and the Main Street GF Challenge as examples of those projects. Those projects would not have happened without DiLorenzo’s “work ethic, greater-good attitude, and ability to work effectively with community stakeholders,” Feland said.
“He was a driving force in this community and this news hurts on a personal level,” Feland said.
In a statement, College of Charleston President Andrew Hsu said DiLorenzo and his wife had moved to Charleston only a few weeks ago.
“Tom was celebrated not only for his collaborative leadership style, but also his belief in experiential learning and how the city of Grand Forks served as an extension of the UND classroom,” Hsu wrote. “Given time, Tom would have seen parallels of that dynamic here in Charleston as well.”