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James Madison University softball star Lauren Bernett dies of apparent suicide at 20

The catcher and cleanup hitter for the Dukes “was a high-achieving member of our softball team and a great ambassador of JMU and our athletics program,” the school's president said.
James Madison catcher Lauren Bernett
James Madison catcher Lauren Bernett during a Women’s College World Series semifinal game at USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City on June 6.Alonzo Adams / USA TODAY Sports

Star James Madison University softball player Lauren Bernett, who helped the school in its historic run to the Women's College World Series, died of apparent suicide, authorities said Wednesday.

The death of Bernett, a sophomore catcher who was third on the Harrisonburg, Virginia, school's team in home runs and second in RBIs, was announced Tuesday by JMU President Jonathan Alger.

"Our hearts are aching, hearing the news of the loss of one of our student-athletes," Alger said in a statement. "Lauren Bernett was a high-achieving member of our softball team and a great ambassador of JMU and our athletics program."

The school’s statement did not state a cause of death, but Rockingham County Sheriff Bryan Hutcheson said on Wednesday that Bernett apparently died of suicide.

"We are in the process of conducting a death investigation into the incident and it is currently classified as an apparent suicide," Hutcheson said in a statement.

"The official report from the Medical Examiner’s Office is pending, and out of respect for her family and friends, there is no other information to release at this time."

As a freshman last year, Bernett, of McDonald, Pennsylvania, started 43 games as the Dukes went 41-4 and advanced to the Women's College World Series for the first time in school history.

The Dukes won their first two games in Oklahoma City before bowing out to perennial power house, and eventual champion, Oklahoma.

The Dukes are 21-21 this year and last played on Sunday, beating Drexel, 11-4, in Philadelphia. Bernett had a banner game, going 4-for-4 with a homer and two doubles.

The Colonial Athletic Association on Monday named Bernett the conference's player of the week.

JMU's next five scheduled games, two against Longwood on Wednesday and three more this upcoming weekend against Delaware, have been canceled.

Bernett's death is the most recent of several high profile suicides of female Division I athletes.

Wisconsin runner Sarah Shulze died on April 13. She struggled with balancing "athletics, academics and the demands of every day life" that "overwhelmed her in a single, desperate moment,” according to a family statement.

Stanford soccer goalkeeper Katie Meyer died on March 1, leaving mother Gina Meyer to wonder if the combined pressure of school and sports was too much.

“There is anxiety and there is stress to be perfect, to be the best, to be No. 1,” Gina Meyer told NBC's "TODAY."

Stanford won the national title in Meyer's freshman year in 2019 as she stopped two penalties in the Cardinal's shootout victory over North Carolina in the championship game.

If you or someone you know is at risk of suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text TALK to 741741 or visit for additional resources.