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New Zealand authorities find body of missing Eckerd College student

Published May 3, 2015

ST. PETERSBURG — New Zealand authorities have found the body of Allison "Ally" Willen, the 20-year-old Eckerd College student who died after being separated from a group hike last week while studying abroad, officials confirmed Saturday.

"Ally was a kid and caring person who was loved by all who knew her," Eckerd president Donald R. Eastman III said in a statement Saturday. "She was deeply committed to her studies and serving others. The Eckerd community is grateful for the time we had with Ally and grieve together for her family and friends. Ally had a joy for life that reminds us of the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson: It is not the length of life, but the depth of life."

Willen, of Akron, Ohio, and two other women were caught in a torrential rainstorm during a three-day hiking trip in Mount Aspiring National Park. Willen got separated from her travel partners on April 25 while crossing the rugged terrain of Gillespie Pass, between Young Valley and Wilkin Valley, and never showed up at a checkpoint, according to New Zealand media reports.

"While all of us at Eckerd hoped for her safe return, authorities found her body Saturday New Zealand time," a news release said.

College officials said there will be a memorial on Eckerd's campus, but plans have not been finalized.

Willen, a nature lover, had been studying abroad as part of an international studies program in Dunedin, on the east coast of the country's South Island.

Photos on her Facebook page show a smiling Willen posing on a glacier, crossing a suspension bridge in a lush forest and standing on a river overlook with a majestic mountain backdrop.

"I didn't know that so much beauty could EXIST in one place, or that I had the strength to climb this damn mountain," she wrote in one post accompanied by a photo of a breathtaking mountain trail.

Her mother, Michelle Willen, told the Akron Beacon Journal on Saturday that she hoped to bring her daughter's body home.

"I know that she's gone and it's just her body, but it's a body that I loved for 20 years," she said. "I want it back."

Times reporter Tony Marrero and news researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report.