CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Jordan Slusher was a deep thinker who used his intellect for telling dry jokes and pursuing thousand-year old mysteries, friends said Monday.

He was so smart. Just always wanting to talk about the ways of the world and he was trying to figure everything out, said friend Amanda Pierce. He could see irony in the world that was lost on a lot of people.

Slusher, a rising senior at UNC-Charlotte, died Saturday when he apparently fell off a rock face on Stone Mountain in western North Carolina, said Charlie Peek, spokesman for the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation.

The 21-year-old visited the state park with two friends on Saturday when they decided to split up and reunite later.

Slusher s friends realized he was missing around 9 a.m. Stone Mountain State Park rangers found him at the base of the mountain around 4:30 p.m.

Slusher s death, which the medical examiner ruled accidental, is the fourth since 2005 in the 14,000-acre state park, which straddles Wilkes and Allegheny counties. About 440,612 people visited the park in 2011, said Peek. People are free to scramble all over that dome, said Peek. But they have to understand that this is nature. It not a theme park. There are ways you can die in these areas.

Pierce wasn t surprised that Jordan decided to go hiking on Saturday, given his love for the outdoors.

I m so sad something like this happened, said Pierce. You had this feeling that Jordan was going to be something great.

Pierce met Slusher in summer 2011 when the two traveled with UNCC Religious Studies Professor James Tabor to Israel.

Tabor invited Slusher on the trip because of his interest in early Christianity. Slusher was a religious studies major who had hoped to earn a doctorate degree.

The group spent two weeks digging in Suba Cave, believed to have the earliest examples of Christian art in the world.

Jordan was just going around with his mouth open, said Tabor. To him, this was his lifetime dream.

Even after hours of work, Slusher kept his good humor.

He was invariably cheerful and positive, Tabor said.

Slusher s wit also served him well in the classroom.

Jeremy Schott, associate professor of religious studies, worked with Slusher on his senior honors thesis, which analyzed early Christian examples of Paul s conflict with Peter as portrayed in Galatians.

What I enjoyed most about working with Jordan was his frankness from pointing out the humor in the exigencies of Greek grammar ... to sharing some laughs about the sheer number of studies and re-examinations of Galatians, said Schott.

Connie Rothwell, the director of the University Honors College at UNCC, said Slusher s enthusiasm for discovery never waned.

She noted that Slusher would frequently study foreign languages so he could read religious text in its original form.

He was serious about wanting to contribute something new to the conversation and not just rehashing what others had said, Rothwell said.

Slusher was also actively involved with the on-campus church group Ratio Christi, as well as the Student Alumni Ambassador program and peer tutoring.

On Monday, administrators were already discussing ways to honor Slusher. One suggested a posthumous degree. Another mentioned creating a scholarship in his name.

He was a terrific kid who was genuinely interested in every person that he met, said Christine Reed Davis, the senior associate dean of students. He really lived his college life in the most fulfilling fashion.
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