With an inquiring mind and a passion for enlightenment, Joe Kirkpatrick ‘19 left a one-of-a-kind impression on those who knew him.
Often striking up conversations that drove deep into the meaning of life, the Maryland native was brilliant in topics beyond his psychology major, friends said.
“He enjoyed philosophy and thinking about things beyond our world. He was very thoughtful, very in his head, and thought about things that not a lot of people could even imagine,” Paige Santelli ‘19 said.
Kirkpatrick died on May 19 in an off-road driving accident in Ensenada, Mexico. At the time, he was on a vacation with his freshman year roommate, former Lafayette student Luis Balaguer Escobar. They called their several-days-long excursion into California and Mexico “Roommate Heaven,” as they were traveling and rooming together once again.
Although Escobar left Lafayette after his freshman year, he said he and Kirkpatrick stayed in touch through daily phone calls. They would delve into both philosophical discussion and everyday life.
Escobar said that their brotherhood was sealed from the start.
“The friendship that we made over the span of two weeks of rooming together was supernatural. I had never felt so close to someone. I had never felt so perfectly clicked with anyone in my life,” he said. “He reached a level of enlightenment I couldn’t understand, and still don’t understand.”
Tragedy struck on the fourth day of their “Roommate Heaven” trip in the desert of Ensenada.
Escobar said he, his father and Kirkpatrick were traveling through difficult and low-visibility terrain, accompanied by two top professional off-road racers. Kirkpatrick’s family said that he had had “extensive experience driving ATVs in off-road terrain.”
About five and a half hours into their journey, Kirkpatrick got into an accident in his off-road ATV.
“I’m driving and I see Joe [ahead of me], and Joe got into an accident. I did my best to get him to the hospital and save his life,” he said. “But after the accident, we put Joe in the passenger’s seat of my UTV, and we were about 20 kilometers away from the nearest highway. Joe was with me and I was driving to the highway. Joe put his head on my shoulder, he grabbed my hand and he squeezed, and the light went out. Joe passed away.”
“Joe died in the most beautiful wilderness that you could possibly imagine,” Escobar said. “I think that in a certain way, that that was the most peaceful and beautiful setting that Joe would have wanted to pass away in.”
Kirkpatrick is the fourth Lafayette student to have died in the 2016-2017 school year, after the deaths of Sarah Bramley ‘19, Joey Towers ‘18, and Amanda Miner ‘18.
Emily Saba ‘19 said Kirkpatrick uniquely took in and embodied the beauty of life and nature.
“Joe was and is probably the most incredible human being I’ve ever met. That’s not me exaggerating,” she said. “I don’t think that I’ll meet anybody like him again.”
While reeling from the loss of Kirkpatrick, Saba said she took comfort in thinking about what he would say to her if he knew how she was feeling.
“Joe would look me in the eyes and he would say in his quiet, deep voice, ‘You know Emily, you can’t [cut yourself off from relationships]. Because the reason that we’re living is to form relationships…if you [don’t do] that, you actually aren’t living.’”
Kirkpatrick found an outlet for his wisdom through music, Saba said. He co-hosted the radio show Late Night, Low Fidelity with Slater Stark ‘19 on Lafayette’s WJRH.
“He loved music. His way of communicating with reality was through music,” she added. “If you wanted new music, you went and listened to his radio show because he always had this stuff that was so good and super undercover that no one really knew about.”
When he wasn’t on his radio show, friends said Kirkpatrick liked to be outdoors hiking or sitting on his “stoop” next to South College or McKeen Hall, while talking with his friends and smoking.
Brandon Marcelis ‘19 noted that Kirkpatrick’s impact spread all across the college.
“[Something] everyone will probably remember him for is his nickname ‘Smokey Joe.’ There is not a person I’ve met on campus that has not heard that nickname,” he said.
Marcelis met Kirkpatrick months before their freshman year at Our Beloved Community, shortly before accepted students day. On that overnight stay, he said, they were up until 4 a.m. talking and watching the sunrise.
His on-campus fame is widespread, but Marcelis said he will remember him for his brilliance.
“You could speak to him about any topic in life, the hard sciences, social sciences, English, math, reading, anything, and he had something miraculous to say.” he said. Most places they discussed, he added, Kirkpatrick either knew a lot about or had already traveled to.
He was someone who Marcelis said “completed the path in life that God paved for him.”
“Everything he did had a purpose,” Saba said. “Nothing was flippant, and I think if we all lived our lives like that, the world would be a better place.”