Body recovered from Puffer’s Pond in Amherst identified as UMass student

  • Emergency personnel search for a missing swimmer at Puffer's Pond in Amherst, Friday. Gazette file photo

  • University of Massachusetts Amherst journalism senior Jacob Johnson’s body was recovered May 4 from Puffer’s Pond in Amherst. COURTESY THE BOSTON GLOBE

Thursday, May 10, 2018

AMHERST — A man whose body was recovered from Puffer’s Pond on Friday has been identified as University of Massachusetts student Jacob Johnson, 21, of East Bridgewater, according to the district attorney’s office.

Spokeswoman Mary Carey said no foul play is suspected. Authorities did not provide any further details Monday morning.

Johnson was a senior journalism major in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, according to an email sent to the UMass Amherst community. He would have walked with his classmates at graduation this Friday, according to an email from journalism department chairman Brian McDermott and chief undergraduate adviser Beth Wallace.

“On behalf of UMass, we extend our sincere condolences to Jacob’s family and friends who are mourning his untimely death,” Cara Appel-Silbaugh, dean of students, said in a statement.

Johnson, who came to UMass in 2014 after graduating from East Bridgewater High School, worked as a student journalist at The Boston Globe last year.

“Jacob’s friends and professors knew him as a wonderful person, an engaging scholar, and a promising professional,” journalism professor Josh Braun said in a statement. “He was invariably articulate and combined a sharp intellect with a witty, disarming personality. He made my classroom a warmer, more thoughtful, and more interesting place every day he was there.”

In an email, Braun told the Gazette that one of his favorite things about Johnson was that he was an independent thinker.

“When he would disagree with his peers or with me, the ensuing conversation always promised to be not only meaningful and interesting, but friendly and fun,” Braun wrote. “The more you argued with him, the better you liked him. It was a pretty singular quality of the sort the journalism profession — and the world — could really use at the moment.”

Journalism professor Karen List told the Gazette that Johnson was a quiet student who was committed to getting as much as possible from class.

“After law class, he’d sometimes email me to ask what else he could read on a certain topic. Or he’d send me articles he’d found that he thought might interest me,” List said. “He went beyond assignments to deepen his knowledge. And I think he did that because he cared so much about the big issues affecting us all today.”

“So many faculty and students in this department are devastated that he won’t have the chance to be the journalist and the person he could have been,” List added. “Our hearts go out to his family.”

Johnson was also an intern at the Daily Hampshire Gazette, where he wrote for the arts section in the fall of 2016.

“He was a really, really hard worker,” former arts editor Kathleen Mellen, who left the Gazette in 2017, said. “I’m very sorry to hear about his death, it’s heartbreaking.”

During his time at the Gazette, Johnson wrote on a wide range of topics, from a review of a Henry Rollins concert to an interview with Amherst storyteller Motoko Dworkin.

“Immediately impressive,” was how Mellen described Johnson, who she said had no hesitancy about jumping into difficult work. “Really likable.”

Emergency responders were called to the pond on Friday for a report of a possible drowning at around 1:40 p.m. Calls came over the police scanner from bystanders who had lost sight of a man in the middle of the pond.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.