Autopsy completed but still no official cause of death for Berry student. Funeral tonight in Knoxville; college providing charter buses. Heart-breaking story posted in the student newspaper and his obituary is just as touching.

Autopsy completed but still no official cause of death for Berry student. Funeral tonight in Knoxville; college providing charter buses. Heart-breaking story posted in the student newspaper and his obituary is just as touching.

The cover of the Oct. 12 edition of Berry College’s student newspaper, The Campus Carrier, is devoted to 19-year-old classmate David Shankles.


Floyd County Coroner Gene Proctor says the autopsy on David Shankles conducted at the GBI crime lab has been completed but there’s still no determination on the cause of death. Toxicology reports are pending, Proctor adds. For now, the 19-year-old’s body has been released to his family for memorial services.

The funeral for David will be at Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church in Knoxville at 7 p.m. Friday. Visitation also will be at the church, beginning at 5 p.m. and concluding prior to the service.

From Berry’s Campus Carrier: “There have been arrangements for buses made to transport students to the funeral so that you do not need to drive yourself.  Buses will depart at 1:30 p.m. Friday from the Cage Center parking lot. Buses will return Friday evening immediately following the service. We anticipate returning to campus by midnight.”

David’s obituary also was posted by Rose Mortuary Mann Heritage Chapel, Knoxville. It reads, in part:

David Christopher Shankles , age 19, of Knoxville, died unexpectedly Tuesday, October 10, 2017, of a yet unknown cardiac event. His sense of humor, contagious laugh, athleticism, adventuresome spirit, and unbounding kindness will continue to brighten the world.

David Christopher Shankles ObituaryGrowing up on a small farm outside of Knoxville with five brothers and one sister, there was never a dull moment in David’s childhood. He helped his siblings build many tree houses and zip lines in the woods behind their property. David ran to Blue Grass Elementary School so often that one winter a classmate’s parent called the school wanting to buy him a jacket. He even rode his unicycle to West Valley Middle School one day.

David graduated from Bearden High School in 2016. A fierce friend and committed teammate, David ran his heart out in every race from elementary school through to the collegiate level. A creative and hard-working classmate, David poured his energy and focus into designing and building theater sets as a stage tech. A dedicated and energetic lifeguard, David worked through high school at the Cherokee Country Club.

Not only did David navigate high school so well, he helped everyone he came into contact with feel a sense of belonging. David was a sophomore at Berry College in Rome, Georgia. He competed in cross country and track, scoring fourth place in the Southern Atlantic Conference steeplechase race his freshman year. David chose to pursue a career in healthcare and studied nursing while at Berry.

He enjoyed connecting with high schoolers through the Young Life program at Rome High School. David felt right at home in the Berry community and established many deep friendships. David could be found road tripping around the country, baking pizza from scratch on Saturday nights, or playing with his nieces and nephew. David’s lightning-quick wit, zest for life, and ever present playfulness have taught us so much about love, joy, and what it means to fully live. He is beloved by so many and doing just fine with Jesus.

He is survived by his parents, Karen and Roland Shankles; his siblings Charlie (Megan), Stephen (Katie), Andrew, Peter, Molly, and JJ; grandparents Charlie & Hazel Guthrey, and Ruth Shankles; nieces Annie, Rose, and Silvia; and nephew Emmit.

The family will receive friends from 5 until 7 p.m. Friday at Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church with a Celebration of Life to follow. Reverend Steve Moldrup will officiate.

In lieu of flowers, please consider donating to the Young Life Program in Rome, Georgia by contacting Tamra Roland – Or to the David Shankles Memorial Fund at Berry College (

Rose Mortuary Mann Heritage Chapel, Knoxville.

Friday update:Team to race in David’s memory on Saturday

The Berry cross country teams will be racing on home turf this Saturday at the Berry Invitational, featuring alumni and over 30 schools. However, both of Berry’s teams will be racing with with heavy hearts after the loss of a teammate earlier this week.

On Tuesday, Oct. 10, the cross country team lost sophomore David Shankles who passed away suddenly leaving behind his loving family, friends and team. The Knoxville, Tenn., native was a dedicated supporter of the cross country team and also a strong contributor to the Berry track program during his freshman year. David’s parents have requested that in lieu of flowers, gifts can be given to Berry College in memory of David ( or to Young Life of Rome.

“This is our final regular season competition before the SAA conference championships. We are all set for outstanding competition, except that our hearts and souls are grasping for resolution to questions too difficult to answer,” head coach Paul Deaton said. “Our loss of David Shankles is unexplainable, and our grief is setting a course we will travel together with some uncertainty. No one knows how we will compete Saturday. We do hope to live life to a degree that David inspired, which will surely be competitive one day.”

The men and women will race at 9 and 10 a.m. respectively in the Clara Bowl. The team plans on competing in honor of David.

Thursday night, Berry College Athletics released a statement and photograph; parts of it follow:

Berry Mourns Loss of Sophomore Runner David Shankles

“David leaves a pair of shoes on our team that cannot be filled,” Berry head track and field coach Luke Syverson said. “He was a great teammate who made his team laugh and cared deeply. David was a great example of what it means to ‘Be Berry’ and in his short time here embodied the motto of head, heart and hands. Our hearts go out to his family and all he knew outside of our Berry community.”

A Southern Athletic Association (SAA) Academic Honor Roll honoree during his freshman year in both cross country and track, Shankles was beloved by teammates and coaches. After setting multiple personal records during his freshman season on the cross country team, he became an immediate contributor to the Berry track program placing fourth in the 3,000m Steeplechase and sixth in the 1,600m relay at the SAA Championships.

In an email to the Berry campus, Berry College’s Dean of Students Debbie Heida said: “As a college community that loves deeply, our hearts are broken. We have experienced a great loss and our campus is a grieving place this week. But we are also a place of deep and abiding relationships and connections. Students, faculty and staff have reached out to each other and will continue to do so. This is a time for great conversations about how much David meant to so many here.”

You can read The Carrier’s report by clicking Oct. 12. We’re posting some excerpts below:

Just two hours after the news broke, hundreds gathered in the College Chapel for a prayer vigil in remembrance of him and to join as a community in support of each other. 

As 5 p.m. neared, the campus went quiet in respect for the beloved student, teammate and friend. All that could be heard was the sound of cleats on pavement as the football team stopped practice and walked together to the service in a straight line from Valhalla Stadium to the College Chapel.

As the service started, the sun shone directly behind the steeple and created a silhouette. Then, a small rainbow formed just above the chapel, disappearing at the cross on the very top of the steeple. Now, only a few birds could be heard chirping outside.

Walking into the chapel, there was a sense of heaviness. Some mourned the loss of a friend and some became emotional over the death of a classmate, someone their age.

Berry College Chaplain Jonathan Huggins started off by stating that it was a time to grieve, pray, hug and absorb the shocking news together. 

“There are no great words to say right now but there are some great works to read,” Huggins said. 

He then read Psalms 34:18, “The Lord is near the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit (ESV).”

The sunlight filled the chapel and warmed the audience while David Elmer, assistant professor of kinesiology, led everyone in singing hymns. 

Huggins then prompted a silent prayer for Shankles’ family. With heads bowed and arms around each other, the chaplain led a recitation of The Lord’s Prayer. 

Although not everyone at Berry is a Christian, almost every person in the chapel chanted the prayer from Matthew 6:9-13 (ESV) with the hundreds of attendees. Then, Huggins opened the floor for anyone who wanted to speak. 

A man in the back stood up and as he walked to the front, some began to cry and hold each other as they realized it was Shankles’ cross-country and track and field coach at Berry, Luke Syverson.

Syverson began by saying, “One of the things that those of you who knew David will know and appreciate was his sense of living life to the fullest.” He then recalled coaching two of Shankles’ brothers at Lipscomb University. After knowing his brothers, Syverson knew he wanted Shankles on the team.

Syverson said he equated Shankles to a lifelike version of Curious George. 

“Last year, one of the stories that kind of fit David was getting a call that he had gotten in trouble–which is odd because David would never get in trouble, he would never do anything outright bad,” Syverson said. “So, I hear that he got in trouble because he was exploring some unknown caverns. He was curious but in a fun, loving way.”

As the coach shared his memories, the audience laughed along with him as they celebrated the love for life that Shankles had. 

Syverson began to tear up as he finished with this statement, “The thing that I take with me from the opportunity to get to know David was how much he loved life. How much he was Berry. He fit this campus to a ‘t’ and he will leave a big hole on our campus and especially on our team. What David would want everyone to take away from this is to make the most out of every opportunity and to live life to its fullest.”

He closed by asking for prayers for the Shankles family considering how tightly knit and strong in their faith they were. 

“They know where David’s at and I want you to know that, too, and the hope we have in Christ,” said Syverson.

As the coach returned to his seat, the chapel erupted with applause. 

Chaplain Huggins asked the audience to stand together and embrace each other. Everyone broke out into hugs, reaching over pews and crossing aisles to support each other. 

Huggins closed with this benediction, “May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. May the Lord grant you his favor and peace, especially now and always. Amen.”


Friends and other students at Berry College continue to mourning the stunning death of David Shankles. 

Barely two hours after Floyd County Coroner Gene Proctor declared him dead from so-far unspecified reasons, a prayer vigil was held at a college chapel. At sporting events that evening, the young track star was remembered. The summary of a news release on the Berry Volleyball team’s historic win over Emory begins with, “On a night veiled in grief and remembrance, the Berry College volleyball team defeated the No. 4 Emory Eagles for the first time in program history.”

David Shankles
David Shankles

The 19-year-old second-year student from Knoxville was found “unconscious and unresponsive” by his roommate in their dorm Tuesday afternoon, Proctor says. Campus security and emergency teams were called and immediately tried to revive the young man, using an AED and CPR. He was then transported to Redmond Regional Medical Center’s emergency room — less than two miles from campus — and was pronounced dead at 2:59 p.m., the coroner says.

Saying he was “not been able to determine what happened” to cause the death, Proctor has sent his body to the GBI crime lab for an autopsy. Initial checks of his body and the dorm room yielded no clues, Proctor adds.

Berry College posted a note to students, faculty, staff and on Facebook with news of the tragedy:

Shankles was a member of Berry’s track team. He attended Bearden High School in the Knoxville area and was two-time team captain there. His major is listed as biology (premedicine concentration). He also made the Southern Athletic Association’s Academic Honor Roll earlier this year. Source: Team biography

From Berry College Athletics:

“As a Vikings family, our hearts mourn this afternoon. We will be holding a moment of silence at both home soccer and volleyball events this evening in loving memory of David Shankles.”

Luke Syverson, Berry College Head Men’s and Women’s Track & Field Coach/Assistant cross country coach, added:

A prayer vigil also was held in Shankles’ honor at 5 p.m. Tuesday at the College Chapel, according to Viking Fusion (click here for continuing coverage).

This is the second time the Berry community has faced the loss of a student this year.

In July, Mason Tompkins, an incoming freshman at Berry College who was among the latest players to commit to the Vikings’ football team, died in a swimming accident at High Falls in Northeast Alabama. Tompkins, 18, was a guard at Harrison High School in Kennesaw. He was described as six feet tall and weighing 245 pounds. According to an earlier release from Berry about the 2017 recruiting class:

“Tompkins joins the Vikings after a strong career at Harrison High School. He helped anchor the offensive line that advanced to the second round of the state playoffs and was selected as the Player of the Week for his efforts during the season. The son of Renee and Wade Tompkins, Mason plans on majoring in political science at Berry.”

Tompkins was honored by the Berry Vikings’ football team at the start of the season.

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