Parents sue Truman State after sons kill themselves

2 months 2 weeks 5 days ago Thursday, August 01 2019 Aug 1, 2019 Thursday, August 01, 2019 12:02:06 PM CDT August 01, 2019 in News
By: The Associated Press

KIRKSVILLE, Mo. (AP) — The parents of two students who killed themselves at a Truman State University fraternity house are suing the school, the fraternity and a fraternity member who they claim encouraged the suicides.

The joint lawsuit filed Wednesday in Adair County links the fraternity member to two other suicides and a fifth death that remains under investigation, The Kansas City Star reported.

The parents of Alexander David Mullins, of Kansas City, and Joshua Michael Thomas, of St. Louis, allege in their lawsuit that the school and others knew their sons struggled with depression and didn't act to protect them before they killed themselves at the Alpha Kappa Lambda House. Mullins lived at the house and Thomas lived in campus housing.

Their attorney, Nicole Gorovsky, alleges in the lawsuit that a fraternity member gave his friends "advice on how to commit suicide." The Associated Press is not naming the student because he has not been charged with a crime.

The lawsuit also links the fraternity member to two other young men who killed themselves but are referred to with pseudonyms. One was also a member of Alpha Kappa Lambda and the other socialized with them but wasn't a Truman State student. The suit also mentions the death of a woman, which is still under investigation. All five died during the 2016-17 academic year.

The five were friends of the fraternity member, who is no longer a Truman State student and lives in Illinois, said Grovosky, who added that the student wasn't kicked out of the school, which is located in Kirksville, about 165 miles (265 kilometers) northwest of St. Louis.

A police investigation found that the student was the last person to see or talk to each of the other students before their deaths and had access to all of them, including keys to their rooms and apartments, Gorvosky said. The fraternity member told police that "he counseled people and gave advice and step-by-step directions to people on how to 'deal with depression and do their own free will,'" she alleges, noting that the counseling included "advice on how to commit suicide."

"This tragedy was preventable," Gorovsky said. "This situation had been swept under the rug."

Warren Wills, the school's general counsel, said Wednesday that the university provided counseling for fraternity members after the deaths and that a group was formed to provide ongoing support "to help them get their house in order."

"Young people who are college age are very susceptible to this type of difficulties," he said, although acknowledged that so many deaths within months involving the same fraternity "is certainly an unusual situation."

Wills said because the fraternity house is not on campus and is owned by Alpha Kappa Lambda, the university's only jurisdiction is to decide whether it remains a recognized student organization, and it remains an active fraternity at Truman State.

The parents are seeking monetary compensation. Gorovosky said if a settlement is reached, the parents would want the university's faculty and staff to be trained to recognize dangerous behavior "so no other students are hurt."

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