Warning: the details of this story are disturbing.
In a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the parents of two deceased young men, an Alpha Kappa Lambda Fraternity (AKL) brother at Truman State University (TSU) has been linked to five alleged suicides that occurred between August 2016 and August 2017.
The lawsuit, filed against TSU, AKL, and Brandon Grossheim in the Circuit Court of Adair County, Missouri, alleges that Grossheim “aided or encouraged” Alex Mullins, Josh Thomas, and three others (identified only as John Doe 1, John Doe 2, and Jane Doe) to “commit wrongful acts against themselves.”
Mullins, Thomas, and John Doe 1 were all TSU students and members of AKL, while John Doe 2 and Jane Doe were local Kirksville residents in their early twenties. According to the lawsuit, all four males suffered from depression. The plaintiffs say they don’t know how Jane Doe died, but say the four males each died by suicide (hanging).
Nicole Gorovsky, an attorney representing Mullins’s and Thomas’s parents, said Grossheim had access to all five of these people and was one of the last people to see them before their deaths. Gorovsky said Grossheim was “repeatedly found in the proximity of the deaths” and was even “reportedly seen wearing one of the victims clothing and carrying money that went missing from another victim’s room after their deaths.”
Grossheim allegedly considered himself to be a “superhero,” and give himself the nickname “peacemaker.” The lawsuit alleged that would gave “advice” on how to deal with depression, including “advice on how to commit suicide.”
Aside from implicating Grossheim, the lawsuit also alleged that both AKL and TSU were aware of Grossheim’s “dangerous proclivities” and the vulnerability of the mental states of the deceased. The school denied wrongdoing on its part, while a fraternity spokesman reportedly declined to comment, saying the lawsuit had not yet been received.
Alex Mullins’ mother, Melissa Bottoroff-Arey, described him as “funny, caring and smart” and said that he “went to Truman to build his future.” She also said that she put trust in the fraternity system, saying “in a ‘brotherhood’ you think your kids are safe and cared for.”
Suzanne Thomas, Josh Thomas’s mother, said her son “was an intelligent and kind young man with a bright future ahead of him.”
“This situation had been swept under the rug. The University held a short symposium on suicide and the fraternity seemingly shrugged their shoulders and everyone went away quietly,” Gorovsky said, according to the Daily Beast. “But, no one told the public, parents or students on campus about the psychological manipulation that had been involved…that a fellow student and fraternity brother was a danger.”
Grossheim had keys to all four male victims rooms/apartments. When John Doe 1 died in the AKL fraternity house, Grossheim was the house manager and was the one who found his body. The same is true regarding Mullins’s and Thomas’s alleged hangings. When John Doe 2 allegedly hanged himself, he had moved into a separate apartment building, but Grossheim lived across the hall. On top of this, when Thomas’s body was found he was hanging near a scrap of paper with Grossheim’s name and contact info on it.
The lawsuit further claimed that Grossheim had a “known fascination with death” and that AKL members Ian Rothbarth and Seth Baskett reported to police that they had “problems” with Grossheim.
The lawsuit is predicated on Grossheim’s proximity to the victims at the time of their death and his desire to give “advice” and “step by step” directions to depressed people on how to “do their own free will.” The lawsuit claimed, for instance, that Grossheim was asked to “watch” John Doe 1 for his safety prior to his death.
The lawsuit immediately brought to mind the Michelle Carter texting-suicide case. Carter’s text messages repeatedly encouraging her then-boyfriend Conrad Roy III to take his own life resulted in her getting convicted of manslaughter. A key difference in this case, however, was Grossheim’s physical proximity to the victims leading up to and directly following their deaths.
In a statement to the Daily Beast, the general counsel for TSU, Warren Wells seemed confident that university won’t be implicated, stating that “as the litigation proceeds, it will become clear that the university is not responsible for the deaths of these students.”
The plaintiffs have asked for a jury trial.
[Image via Fox 2 St. Louis screengrab]