Advertise - Print Edition

Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Suicide rattles community

Sommers, 18, found in Gordon Hall

Published: February 18, 2011
Section: Front Page

MOURNING: University President Fred Lawrence and Student Union President Daniel Acheampong ‘11 attend a memorial vigil.
PHOTO BY Ingrid Schulte/The Hoot

Katherine “Kat” Sommers ’14 was found dead on campus Tuesday evening after an apparent suicide, university officials said. Sommers, 18, was found dead by a community advisor in her residence hall only days after she had moved rooms from the first to the third floor of Gordon Hall in North Quad.

“The death of anyone is difficult, but when a person takes their own life it is extremely challenging,” University Chaplain Father Walter Cuenin wrote in a statement to The Hoot. “Sometimes we ask ourselves how it could have happened or could we have done something to prevent it. The most important thing at this moment is for us to reach out to her close friends and to one another.”

In addition to police and BEMCo, staff from the Middlesex District Attorney Office responded to the scene of the unattended death and determined that it was “not suspicious” Cara O’Brien, a spokeswoman for the DA’s office, said Thursday.

In an interview, Dean of Student Life Rick Sawyer said staff from Community Living, including community development coordinators, and staff from the Office of Student Life had been in contact with Sommers during the past week, including on Tuesday; however, he would not comment further as to the nature of the contact.

Immediately after the apparent suicide, staff from the Chaplaincy and Counseling Center as well as Sawyer, and Associate Dean of Student Life Jamele Adams met with students on Sommers’ residence hall, and staff stayed on campus into the early hours of Wednesday morning talking with students.

On Wednesday morning, university Catholic Chaplain Father Walter Cuenin met with students in the Shapiro Campus Center and in the evening the Counseling Center held a group therapy session.

In an unrelated interview last month about university and state mental health policies, university Director of Public Safety Ed Callahan said that if there is an emergency threat of suicide, university police will become involved.

“In an emergency situation, we can obviously work with the [counseling center] to get them some immediate assistance,” however Callahan declined to comment on Sommers’ death this week because it is part of an ongoing investigation.

The last time a Brandeis student committed suicide was two years ago, before commencement weekend in 2009, Callahan said.

Both university President Fred Lawrence and Sawyer spoke with Sommers’ father Tuesday evening. Lawrence, who had been traveling in California, was back on campus the next day.

Lawrence sent an e-mail to parents on Wednesday afternoon, informing them about the death and the wide range of services made available to students Tuesday night and the rest of the week.

“As parents, Kathy and I know that you have entrusted us with your children during their time at Brandeis. We take this trust as a sacred obligation,” Lawrence wrote. “It is at times of tragedy like this that we discover just how strong and special this community is.”

By Thursday, many of Sommers’ friends and family wrote posts on her Facebook page, expressing complete surprise at her death and memorializing her life.

“There’s no right way to mourn. There’s no wrong way to mourn,” Lawrence said at a vigil honoring Sommers’ life on Wednesday. “There’s a human way to mourn.”

“May [Sommers] rest in peace and may the consolation of our faith traditions help us as a Brandeis community,” Cuenin wrote.