MORNINGSIDE HEIGHTS — The Columbia University student found dead in a campus dorm room Sunday was a plaintiff in a class action lawsuit against Merck & Co., the makers of birth control NuvaRing, which lawyers claimed caused her to suffer blood clots in her brain.
Jessica Fingers, 21, was found dead by police responding to a 911 call of an unconscious and unresponsive person at East Campus, an apartment-style dorm on the university's Morningside Heights campus.
Police sources said it was believed that Fingers had likely died of a drug overdose. Fingers, a talented cross country runner who was on scholarship at Columbia until she took a leave of absence last year, had a history of drug abuse. The Medical Examiner's office said Monday that the autopsy was inconclusive and that further tests were required to determine a cause of death.
The death of left her family and students devastated. Many of them were searching for answers on social media as to how the talented young woman who had been courted by multiple colleges ended up dead in a dorm.
Members of Fingers' family attacked her boyfriend Peter Russell, blaming him for Fingers' death.
Erin Boothe, who lists herself as Fingers' sister, wrote that Russell was "not the only one suffering."
"I lost my sister..my dad lost a daughter..my children lost their aunt," she wrote.
She blamed Russell, saying that he knew Fingers "couldn't party" but that he "still encouraged it...with no regard for her safety."
Charlene Herbert, who listed herself as Fingers' cousin, also bashed Russell, telling him that he "messed" Fingers' life up and that he needed to "go get clean and for her sake do something positive" with his life.
Another cousin, Alicia Herbert-Dean, wrote to Russell that he "killed my cuz" and that he should "go to jail for life."
Messages to Russell and Fingers' family members were not returned, but Russell defended himself from the accusations on Facebook, saying that he did not "kill anyone."
Fingers "was doing drugs long before she met me," he wrote, adding she purchased "methadone her damn self."
Russell called Fingers his best friend and said they had plans to get married.
"She was her own person and she made sure everyone knew it," he wrote.
In the lawsuit, filed February in California State Superior Court, Fingers says she suffered clotting problems as a result of using the product. The suit charges that the makers of the birth control ring failed to warn users about clotting risks associated with its use and over-promoted the product.
On her Facebook page, Fingers, who lists her name as "Jessica Sarah Lightheart," talks about having recovered from blood clots in her brain last May.
In May 2012 she wrote "my brain blood clots dissolved!!! no more blood tests & coumadin woot woot!!!" she said about the blood-thinning drug coumadin.
"Now that I'm off blood thinners and no more MRIs...time to get body parts pierced and re-pierced," she also wrote.
Jaime Moss, an attorney with Sizemore Law Firm in El Segundo, Calif., said the lawsuit is currently pending.
Kat Cutler, director of communications for Columbia University, said Fingers, a member of the class of 2013, was on leave from the school but was on campus visiting a friend.
She came to Columbia University as a highly recruited cross country star who was also academically gifted. The Ivy League university paid the majority of her tuition. Her plan was to graduate and pursue a career in law or marketing.
Fingers also listed on her Facebook page that she was in a relationship with a man named Peter Russell.
On Sunday, Russell wrote a distressing message on his Facebook page: "My life is over... Shes gone so i have nothing to live for.. Bye."
Russell, who lists himself as a freelance tattoo artist, then wrote: "I woke up and the love of my life was dead next to me."
"I dunno wat to do im just wandering around in the rain they jus let me leave the police station," he later wrote.
At first friends tried to calm Russell down.
"Don't do nothing Crazy tho man i got mad love for you," wrote Sean Anthony.
"I'm so sorry for your lost she was amazing person! Rip" wrote Talisha Seoane.
According to a 2008 article in The River Reporter, Fingers, a member of the class of 2013, was also recruited by several other colleges.
Fingers finished sixth in New York State for cross country runners that year and was attracted to Columbia because of its location in Manhattan as well as the coaches and teammates on the track team.
In January of last year, Fingers wrote about passing a bartending exam and that she had raised her grade point average by .4 points.