Lynn Anderson’s son was a physics fanatic. He always had a love for hard sciences and had a naturally brilliant mind. And when sophomore Andrew Salsman arrived at Miami, he discovered his place was in the physics lab.
“He was awarded a scholarship in the fall of 2012 to conduct research on atomic, molecular and optical physics,” Anderson said, adding with a chuckle, “Whatever that means.”
Salsman spent most of his waking hours in the Culler Hall labs, though he made frequent trips home to Springdale to see his mother.
Toward the end of last semester, Salsman began coupling these visits home with a trip to the neighborhood pie shop, known to serve nearly every kind of pie a person could want, Anderson said. Though Salsman was typically a creature of habit when it came to his pie preferences, his mother noticed he began systematically making his way through the menu, sampling even the more grotesque cream-based pies. When his mother asked about this odd behavior, he simply told her he was exploring.
But in fact, he was saying goodbye.
On Dec. 16, Anderson found her son dead, a shotgun at his side. In the note he left her, he explained his lifelong battle with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and anxiety had become increasingly unbearable, weakening his mind and rendering him incapable of conducting the research he loved. Though his mother, of course, knew of his diseases and had long worked to help treat them, his death completely surprised her.
“Nobody anticipated this, not even his doctor,” Anderson said. “He used all his intelligence to carefully mask his intent.”
Though Anderson applauded Miami’s existing programs that aid in suicide prevention, such as its Just In Case app for smartphones, its various hotlines and its counseling services, she said there was still a piece missing. There had to be or else her son would still be alive.
“You know it’s been said it takes a village to raise a child. Well, I believe it takes a village to prevent a suicide,” Anderson said. “Suicide prevention programs and hotlines serve a useful purpose and save lives. But something is missing. We need a community of eyes and ears to look out for people who are masking.”
The only way to prevent suicide is if an entire community is involved in actively looking out for its own.
Sophomore Jaclyn Wulf was naturally good at this.
“She was always looking out for people,” her father, Clark Wulf said. “She was happiest when she was helping people.”
After a loved one’s suicide rattled Jaclyn early in her life, she committed herself to joining the fight against it. She became heavily involved in the Suicide Prevention Education Alliance (SPEA) in Cleveland, joining in marches and rallies, hounding her parents for donations and devoting herself to looking out for those around her she saw struggling with depression or anxiety. These were, after all, diseases she knew well herself-diseases that would ultimately play a role in ending her life.
Early in the morning of Nov. 17, Jaclyn was found unresponsive in her Swing Hall dorm room. She was taken to McCullough-Hyde Memorial Hospital where she died a few hours later. The Butler County Coroner ruled the death a suicide and the toxicity report revealed the cause of death to be a high volume of prescription medications combined with alcohol.
“For what it’s worth, I disagree with the conclusion of suicide,” Clark said. “She never talked about suicide, none of her friends I’ve spoken to did. There was nothing on her phone or iPad to indicate she was thinking about it … We believe it’s a tragic accident, we don’t know what her state of mind was.”
Miami University Police Chief John McCandless said upon returning from a night out, Jaclyn told one of her friends she had ingested too many pills. Her friend advised her to throw them up and Jaclyn said she already had. Her friend escorted her to her room and put her bed, making sure she was OK. When she returned to check on her a few hours later, she found her unresponsive, at which point she called for help.
Director of Student Counseling Services Kip Alishio urged students to call for help if they suspect a friend has ingested too much of any substance.
“We would continually advise and urge any students, faculty or staff who are aware that a person has ingested substances … to call 911,” Alishio said. “Short of calling the police, in residence halls, tell a member of the residence life staff who are trained to handle these sorts of situations.”
Director of Student Wellness Rebecca Baudry called attention to the importance of educating students on how and what to do in such situations.
“A lot students know when something isn’t right, but because they don’t have enough tools in their toolbox, they do nothing and that leads to sad circumstances,” Baudry said.
To help equip students to “build their toolbox,” the office of student health services offers the “Step Up” bystander intervention training both in public forums for all to attend and in private settings such as chapter meetings or classes by request. In addition, Alishio said the university offers the online “At Risk” training for equipping students to help a friend who is feeling suicidal.
“Those are tough situations for students, faculty and staff who aren’t trained,” Alishio said.
Jaclyn received similar training through the SPEA and put it to practice in situations her parents never learned of until after she died.
“The night of her funeral, there was a young girl in the background who approached us after the line of people had cleared a bit and she said ‘You don’t know me and Jaclyn and I weren’t friends, but in high school, we had home room together and one time, your daughter noticed I was struggling and spent several hours with me helping with an attack of depression,'” Clark said. “And that was just one story. We don’t know all the other ways she may have helped people.”
Jaclyn’s eyes and ears were the sort of eyes and ears Anderson is calling for now-a community of bystanders committed to not merely remaining bystanders when they see something that concerns them. To aid in creating this sort of community, Anderson is in the process of founding 2LiveOn (www.2liveon.org) in honor of her son’s death.
“Andrew wanted his body to be donated to science but that couldn’t occur,” Anderson said. “But I thought ‘OK, maybe your body couldn’t be donated but what you went through can be used to help others.’ I am strong in this because I’m pouring myself into something positive.”
At Miami, the university has developed its own initiative for fostering a community of mutual care, respect and support. Launched in the fall of 2013, the “I Am Miami” initiative calls on all its students to look out for one another and
create a community of “Love and Honor,” not just in terms of suicide prevention but in all situations.
Baudry especially called on students to look out for each other in the coming weeks with the advent of spring break and Green Beer Day (for The Miami Student’s tips on staying safe, visit the Editorial Page).
“[Students] still need to have respect and acceptance for each other,” Baudry said. “Ask yourselves what is my role? Am I contributing to a culture of care and concern for others?”
Though the student deaths last semester are tragic, Interim Dean of Students Mike Curme said he is hopeful they can be redeemed if students will take notice and take part in looking out for each other.
“The worst thing that ever happens to a university is losing a student,” Curme said. “The redemption to me in all of this is that the loss we suffer isn’t met with a shrug of the shoulders but with the question of how can we change things?”