The series of deaths caught Bloomington off guard.
Sophomore Danielle Lynn on Aug. 26. Junior Kelly Hackendahl on Aug. 28. Senior Brian MacLafferty on Sept. 10.
“What happened at the beginning of the semester, it shook everybody,” said Mark Land, associate vice president of Public Affairs and Government Relations for IU. “It shook us all. Having three students die so close together has made us think through: are we doing right by everybody? If we’re not at least examining our process and procedures when something like that happens, we’re not doing our job.”
Monroe County Coroner Nicole Meyer ruled all three deaths as suicides.
Even though the details in such cases are personal and painful for the families, knowing how people die is a matter of public interest. In the Indiana Supreme Court’s ruling on death certificates as public record, the justices weighed the privacy of individuals with the need for transparency.
“Death is an intimate and personal matter,” Justice Mark Massa wrote for the court. “We are also mindful of the importance of open and transparent government to the health of our body politic.”
Suicides are particularly sensitive for the University. In situations that don’t affect other students’ safety, Land said he thinks about the family and friends first.
“The general public can dress it up all they want as ‘We have a right to know,’ but a lot of times they are just nosy,” Land said. “They just want to know.”
Students, he said, don’t need to know the details of every situation.
“We spend a lot of time as administrators pushing this rock up the hill everyday,” he said. “How do we help? At some point you can only do so much. Bad things are still going to happen occasionally. But how do you minimize that, and how do you support folks when things happen and how do you send the message, ‘This is a safe place, but you still have to keep an eye out for you and your friends?’”
Land is more focused on the families than the exact numbers. The data on student mortality at IU is more than names on a spreadsheet. It’s sons, daughters, sisters, brothers and classmates.