Joseph Smedley was born on March 27, 1995. He is remembered as being a big-hearted and sweet person, his older sister, Vivianne Bernas, said one day after his 27th birthday.
On Oct. 2, 2015, Bernas and her family’s lives changed forever as her brother’s body was found in Griffy Lake with 66 pounds of rocks on top of him in a backpack.
Smedley’s case remains a mystery as his death was ruled a suicide by the Monroe County Coroner on Dec. 4, 2015. His sister does not agree with this ruling.
Bernas is advocating for her brother, and his case to be reopened and for an investigation to be conducted. She created an Instagram account, justice4joseph, but she has still been left in the dark about what exactly happened to her brother.
Smedley was a wonderful person according to those who knew him and his sister provided a glimpse into his world.
“I want the world to remember him as the guy who was always looking out for other people,” Bernas said. “All he wanted to do was succeed in life. He was on his way to accomplishing great things.”
Aside from his wonderful personality, Smedley had a great taste in food. Bernas said her brother loved Chinese food, but he also loved to cook.
“He was really intelligent and had a lot of friends,” Bernas said. “He was always outgoing and the life of the party.”
Bernas said her brother was also involved in wrestling growing up and was dedicated to it throughout his life. Smedley was a trombone player and had a deep passion for jazz music as well.
“He always wanted to go down to New Orleans,” Bernas said. “This was his dream trip because of the food and the jazz.”
Smedley’s life goals revolved around the sciences and healthcare.
“He has always had an eye for science, and as a kid, he wanted to be a nurse,” Bernas said.
Bernas said her brother came to IU to study biochemistry and was on a pre-pharmaceutical track.
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Outside of his studies, Smedley loved watching the Boondocks and cooking shows. Bernas said growing up, they would watch “Tom and Jerry” together.
Bernas recalls receiving text messages saying he was leaving the country and not responding to the message. She also received a similar note supposedly from her brother before he disappeared, which she said was strange.
“The letter left was written hastily and looked like someone who was left-handed wrote it,” Bernas said. “What really stands out is it was signed by Smedley, and he never went by Smedley and never liked the name.”
Bernas said the only people to call her brother “Smedley” were his roommates and his fraternity brothers in Sigma Pi, who was among the last people to have seen him alive.
Bernas has been raising awareness through a podcast about her brother and his case, “A Heavy Weight”, alongside the host and creator, Stacy Jane. To learn more about him, listen to “A Heavy Weight,” which can be found on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.
IU’s NAACP created a call to action to ask the Bloomington Police Department to reopen Smedley’s case, IU senior and member of IU NAACP, Feven Araya said.
“Don’t think this case is far removed from you because it happened here at IU and Joseph Smedley walked and went to the same places you do,” Araya said.
Joseph deserves to be here. His life matters.