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South Dakota woman killed in cliff fall loved God, the planet, mother says

Andrea Norton, 20, of Hot Springs, S.D., died Saturday, April 13, while hiking with friends from Briar Cliff University in Sioux City, Iowa, according to her obituary.

HOT SPRINGS, S.D. - Andrea Norton, a 20-year-old from Hot Springs, "was larger than life," her mother, Tamera, said Monday. "Her passion was saving the planet" and she believed science and her faith in God went hand in hand.

Andrea died Saturday, April 13, after falling off a cliff in Arkansas while on an environmental science class trip with friends from Briar Cliff University in Sioux City, Iowa, her mother said.

Andrea fell 100 feet off Hawksbill Crag, a rock formation near Jasper that is about 101 miles northwest of Little Rock. She had stepped onto a rock to have her photo taken, and once the photo was snapped, she stepped down, rolled her ankle — which was weak from playing volleyball and basketball — and the momentum made her fall off the cliff, Tamera said one of Andrea's friends at the scene told her. She said media reports that Andrea fell while posing for a photo or adjusting a backpack are wrong.

People at the scene hiked down to help Andrea, but she died upon impact, said Glenn Wheeler, Newton County sheriff. First responders recovered Andrea's body by rappelling down the cliff and bringing her up in a litter.

Wheeler says the crag, located within the Ozark-St. Francis National Forest, is a popular hiking destination and one of Arkansas' most-photographed natural areas. He said people die from falling at the spot every couple of years. Also known as Whitaker Point, the rocky outcrop gets its name because it resembles a hawk's bill.

Andrea earned five letters playing volleyball and basketball at Hot Springs High School, according to her biography on her college team's website.

She attended Briar Cliff University, a Catholic liberal arts school, on volleyball and symphony choir scholarships, Tamera said. Andrea, a junior, was majoring in biology and environmental science and recently had her petition to minor in global studies approved. During the school year she worked in the library, and over the summers she participated in internships.

Andrea interned as a naturalist at the Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center in Sioux City, researched breast cancer at Sanford Health and planned to study aquatic ecology at Central Michigan University this summer, Tamera said. She was preparing to work as an environmental engineer or in any career that "would make a difference to the environment."

"She lived BCU’s values in everything she did from the classroom to the court and everywhere she went," the school wrote on Facebook. Andrea also "embodied BCU’s values in everything she did including her compassion for all, a love for the environment and an openness to everyone she met," BCU said in a press release.

Her daughter was very religious and found no conflict between Biblical creation and science, Tamera said. Tattooed around her ankles were Bible verses Job 12:8, which speaks about learning from the earth and fish, and 1 John 4:4.

Andrea's middle name is Eileen, and the two names together means "courageous light," Tamera said. "Everybody talks about that light" in her whether or not they knew the meaning of her names. "She absolutely just had this fire and light that just permeated everything."

Andrea's immediate family includes her mother, Tamera, her father, Mark, and her younger brother, Matthew. Her ashes will be scattered at different places and a memorial will be set up at Briar Cliff University, her obituary says.