Jeffrey Russ and Olivia Rotondo Identified as Two People Who Died at Electric Zoo Festival

September 1, 2013 Updated: June 24, 2015

Jeffrey Russ of Rochester in New York and Olivia Rotondo of Durham in New Hampshire were identified as the two people who died at the Electric Zoo festival in New York.

Russ, part of the 2012 graduating class at Syracuse University, went to the festival with 23 members of his Syracuse fraternity class and friends from Rochester, his father John Russ said.

“He was a very good son,” John Russ told the New York Times

Jeffrey’s aunt, Patty Fanto-Holdaway, said he wanted to run his own sports blog after he had majored in information technology at Syracuse. Russ fell ill after seeing Avicii, his favorite artist, she said, adding that the cause of his death is unclear.

Russ posted on Twitter a photo at the festival on August 30 with the hashtags #GroupTherapy and #ezoo. Part of his Twitter bio was that Avicii saved his life, and that he was in a “State of Trance” in Rochester.

Some family members told Rochester-based WHEC that Russ wasn’t planning to go to the concert. He originally traveled to New York City to see the Syracuse vs. Penn State football game, they said.

Rotondo, 20, was studying communication at the University of New Hampshire and lived in Durham, according to her Facebook page. On Twitter she expressed excitement for the festival, despite booking a hotel in Chinatown that she called “the scariest place on earth.”

University officials “were greatly saddened to learn of the recent death of Olivia Rotondo, a junior from Rhode Island,” said Erika Mantz, director of the university’s media relations, in a statement. “We extend our deepest sympathies to her family and friends during this difficult time, and are focused on providing support and resources to our campus community.”

Any students in need of counseling should visit the counseling center or call the 24-hour hotline at 603-862-2090.

Police said that both deaths were “non suspicious” and consistent with drug use. The drug in question was likely MDMA, nicknamed Molly, officials said in a statement. 

Related: Electric Zoo Overdose Aftermath: The Rave Scene’s Image

Molly is different from Ecstasy in that it is a white powder or crystal while Ecstasy is used to describe the pill or capsule form of MDMA, according to Columbia University’s Health Department. Molly is often considered the purer form of MDMA, meaning that “many users believe that molly contains more MDMA and less filler compared to ecstasy pills,” according to the university.

“Comparing the two forms of MDMA, however, is very difficult because there are no regulations or quality control over the actual content in these illegal substances,” it adds.

Russ went into respiratory arrest about 3:10 a.m. August 31 and was taken to Harlem Hospital by an ambulance. He was pronounced dead at 3:21 a.m. Rotondo was taken to the Metropolitan Hospital at 8:45 p.m. on August 31 and pronounced dead about 45 minutes later.

The founders of the festival released a statement on September 1: “The founders of Electric Zoo send our deepest condolences to the families of the two people who passed away this weekend.”

“Because there is nothing more important to us than our patrons, we have decided in consultation with the New York City Parks Department that there will be no show today,” they said.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s office said in a statement that “serious health risks” prompted the cancellation.

“During the first two days of the Electric Zoo music festival, two concert-goers have died and at least four others became critically ill and have been placed in intensive care at area hospitals,” the office said in the statement. “Definitive causes of death have not yet been determined, however, both appear to have involved the drug MDMA (ecstasy, or molly).  The Electric Zoo organizers have worked with City officials to reduce health risks at this event, but in view of these occurrences, the safest course is to cancel the remaining day of the event.”

The Electric Zoo festival was held over Labor Day weekend at Randalls Island, which is between Manhattan and Queens and below the Bronx. More than 100,000 people attended last year.

Festival organizers said people would receive refunds based on what type of passes they had (Sunday passes receive a 100 percent refund, 2 day Friday/Sunday passes receive a 50 percent refund, and 2-day Friday/Saturday/Sunday passes receive a 33 percent refund). Those who need a refund should go here or call 888-512-SHOW for more information.

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