A first-year female student who was killed by a lightning strike on the University of Waterloo campus in Ontario this morning had been sheltering under a tree to avoid heavy rain, says a fire and rescue official.

"With this student underneath the tree, it did attract the attention of the lightning bolt which hit the tree and then unfortunately went through to her," said John Percy, the spokesman for Waterloo Fire Rescue.

Two male students found the female engineering student after she was hit. 

"She had burns all over her skin, her clothes were torn off. She was just laying lifeless with smoke coming out of her body," said Daniel Obadun.

"There's this feeling like, if I was there faster, could I have done something to help her?" said Obina Ohuabunwa. "It's devastating, really sad."

First students on the scene

Obina Ohuabunwa, left, and Daniel Obadun found the 18-year-old female student who was struck by lightning. (Nick Boisvert/CBC)

Nancy Griffith, whose daughter Sarah is a first-year student at the University of Waterloo, was on campus when the lightning strike occurred.

"My heart just goes out to the parents," she said. "I'm just very sad and we're thinking of them."

Her daughter added she had expected the first week of university to be fun, but now she's not sure what to think. 

"It's supposed to be that you're meeting new people, and we've already lost one," said Sarah Griffith.

Campus police were next on the scene, followed by Waterloo firefighters who were already on campus for pre-planned fire drills. 

Waterloo Regional Police and the Ontario coroner's office are investigating the death of the student, who was struck near a pathway that led from the ring road circling the campus, near the Student Village 1 residence, around 9 a.m. Emergency responders attempted to revive her at the scene. She was taken to the hospital and then pronounced dead. 

The student's identity is not being released until her next of kin has been notified.

Waterloo Regional Police Chief Bryan Larkin said on Twitter the student was 18. 

The university says it is offering grief counselling for any students who need it.

Police said they are working to notify her next of kin, who live in the Markham, Ont., area. They also said the Ontario Ministry of Labour has been contacted.  

According to the university, the Ministry of Labour was contacted because under labour laws, it is considered a workplace and is obligated to report any critical injury or death that occurs on site. 

An early storm with heavy rains and frequent lightning strikes rolled through Waterloo Region on Friday. The University of Waterloo weather station reported about six millimetres of rain during the morning.