'Shocking to many of us'

'Shocking to many of us'

DANVILLE — A University of Illinois student found dead from a suspected heroin overdose near Danville was a happy, driven 22-year-old who planned to move to California to study geology after graduating in May, friends say.

Jinny Park, a senior from Morton Grove, was identified by Vermilion County sheriff’s Capt. Mike Hartshorn Thursday as one of two people whose bodies were found two days earlier in an apartment just outside the Danville city limits. 

The body of Cameron Berl, 24, of Danville, was found alongside Ms. Park’s at 409 West Lake Boulevard. The two were found by Mr. Berl’s father, Hartshorn said.

Hartshorn said evidence of heroin use was found in the apartment and that authorities suspect Ms. Park and Mr. Berl died of overdoses. They won’t be certain until toxicology results are back, which could take at least a few weeks after the autopsies are conducted, Hartshorn said. 

Friends of Ms. Park said they’d heard rumors of the overdose in the past 48 hours and suspect it may be true.

Ms. Park was a 2012 graduate of Niles West High School in Skokie, where she served as captain of the volleyball team during her senior year. She was born in South Korea as Eun Jin Park, but legally changed her name to “Jinny Park” after grade school, according to a 2011 story published in her high school newspaper, the Niles West News. She moved to the United States with her family when she was 3. 

Ms. Park was a studying geology at the UI and was known by friends as a “happy” young woman with “an amazing soul,” said Kenny Andrews, a Champaign resident whose roommate was a close friend of hers.

“I only knew her for a few months, but in the time that I knew her, she would light up a room in a heartbeat. ... (She) had a smile on her face constantly. She meant a lot to a lot of people here,” Andrews said Thursday. “I am extremely grateful to have crossed paths with such a beautiful soul. Her spirit will be remembered forever.”

Longtime friend Jessica Nianick, a high school and college classmate of Ms. Park’s, remembers a similar young woman who had dreams, found passion in her studies and was looking forward to her future. 

Ms. Park planned to head west after graduating in May to pursue her passion of studying “crystals and gems,” Nianick said.

“There was nobody in this world like Jinny Park. ... So was so beautiful, precious and always a pleasure to see, which is why I personally called her my ‘flower,’” she said. “I think her best qualities were her unlimited empathy for others and her non-judgmental nature. I have never met anybody that truly cared so much about everyone around her.

“Jinny Park was the epitome of a free spirit, a magnetic charm and a beautiful soul. The world lost an amazing young lady that had so much potential and so much to offer this world. She is forever engraved in my heart.”

Upon hearing the news of her passing, a group of Ms. Park’s high school friends in the Chicago area got together to comfort each other and “just tell stories,” said Jennifer La Gioia, who’d known her since second grade. 

“We had a really big group of best friends, so we’ve all been together the past two days,” she said. “It’s been nice. ... It’s truly amazing how many people cared for her.”

Most who knew Ms. Park stayed close with her over the years, according to Luke Hoffman, a former classmate who has been friends with Ms. Park for over a decade. 

“This tragedy was shocking to many of us because we just weren’t aware,” he said. “... The memories are too numerous to even begin to recall, but it’s just important to know how special, loving and caring Jinny was.”

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