There are still more questions than answers regarding the death of a woman whose body was found late Wednesday morning near her home in the GreenField Manor senior residences in Lancaster, but investigators say they may never know why she ventured outside on that bitter-cold day.
Temperatures were near zero, and the wind chill was in the negative teens in the early-morning hours when the 86-year-old resident is believed to have left her apartment building wearing only her pajamas and carrying a pillow, according to Lancaster police. Residents are free to come and go as they please, but exterior doors lock when they shut, and the woman was not carrying her key to get back inside, Lancaster Police Capt. William Karn said.
“We’re not sure how she ended up outside. She had no medical history that would indicate a problem, no dementia,” Karn said.
It is not known how long the woman was out in the frigid weather before another resident saw her lying near the building’s trash bins and notified staff, who called the police. The Broadway Street complex is set back from the road and is adjacent to Lancaster Golf and Country Club, so a person outside would not be easily visible to neighbors or drivers passing by.
“A maintenance person may have seen her in the hallway around 2 a.m., and if it was her, she seemed fine, not upset,” Karn said. “So it would have been after then that she went out. There are no alarms (on the doors).”
The GreenField complex has assisted-living residences and a memory care unit for residents with dementia, but the victim was in the independent living building, for active adults.
Chantelle White, executive director of GreenField Manor, explained that each apartment has a full kitchen and that many residents have cars. The only extra “assistance” is a flipper system on each apartment door that lets staff know if a person has not left his or her room by early afternoon. If the door hasn’t been opened, staff will check to see whether the resident needs any help.
The name of the woman who died is not being released, but White said she had lived at GreenField for several years.
“She was fully alert and oriented,” White said.
The Erie County Medical Examiner’s Office has performed an autopsy and is awaiting toxicology results, Karn said, but indications are that the woman likely died from hypothermia. At this time, the death is being treated as an accident.
Jurgen A. Arndt, president and CEO of Niagara Lutheran Health System, issued a statement Wednesday: “We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of a resident in our independent apartments. At this time the matter is still under investigation by the Lancaster Police Department. We are cooperating fully and will continue to provide any assistance the police may require. Our prayers and thoughts are with the resident’s family and friends.”