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NBC News and msnbc.com
updated 10/7/2010 8:10:40 PM ET 2010-10-08T00:10:40

A 20-year-old woman was found dead in a stairwell outside a University of Washington fraternity house in Seattle, police and fraternity officials told msnbc.com on Thursday.

The King County Medical Examiner ruled the death a suicide, NBC station KING 5 News reported. The cause of death was ruled asphyxia due to hanging.

Mark Jamieson, a spokesman for Seattle police, told msnbc.com Thursday: "It's tragic, but it's not a criminal investigation."

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The UW chapter of the men-only Phi Delta Theta fraternity had been preparing for a recruitment barbecue on Wednesday evening when the body was found at about 4:30 p.m.

"A woman was found dead outside of our property. It was an outside stairwell, a stairwell below a fire escape ... (which) leads to a closed-off entrance to the basement of the house, and was almost never used," Joseph Newland, an alumnus and the resident adviser in the fraternity house, said.

"It’s a young person (found) on a beautiful Seattle afternoon … it’s very upsetting for our members to discover this. Anytime there is a tragedy, there are a lot of emotions. We are praying for this young woman’s family," he added.

The barbecue was canceled after the discovery.

KING 5 reported that the woman was a UW junior majoring in women's studies who lived at the Delta Gamma sorority house. The university sent an e-mail to students with information on grief counseling.

"They're heart broken, devastated. With their love and support of each other, they'll get through it," said Kari Brown with Delta Gamma.

A candlelight vigil will be held for her from 8 to 10 p.m. Friday at Tau Kappa Epsilon, 4520 21st Ave. N.E.

Newland said the woman may have "rented a parking spot from us in the past." If it was this woman, he said, she had "no affiliation with the fraternity."

Newland said he was speaking to the media because "when things happen like this rumors get out of hand."

"I believe the fraternity has no association with the circumstances of her death, from what I know," he told msnbc.com.

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He said the university had provided a member of its counseling service to speak to the fraternity's members. Twenty-five men live in the fraternity house, while 10 others live elsewhere.

Jacob Kingdon, the director of chapter services for the fraternity's national organization, said the woman's death was a "terrible situation" and said the fraternity would hold its own inquiry after the police had completed their investigations.

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