By Ray Stern
By New Times
By Amy Silverman
By Stephen Lemons
By Stephen Lemons
By Monica Alonzo
By Chris Parker
By New Times
No one paid much attention when Bobby Janisse excused himself from the off-campus bash last March 9. "Be right back," he told a young woman he had met earlier that Saturday. "Save my seat, okay?"
Bobby stepped into the bathroom at an apartment near Arizona State University in Tempe. He locked the door behind him and placed a strawberry margarita on the counter. He stood in front of the mirror above the sink and stared at himself.
Then he lifted a .38-caliber revolver out of his pants pocket, put the gun's muzzle to his right temple and pulled the trigger. A bullet raced through Bobby's brain. The gun fell into the sink. Bobby dropped to the floor.
Everyone at the party--including Bobby's best friend in Arizona, two teammates from the ASU wrestling team and an assistant coach--rushed to the bathroom door at the sound of the explosion. His roommate, fellow wrestler Jeff Theiler, stood outside the closed door and urged Bobby to stop his fooling around. Bobby didn't respond.
Someone looked under the door and saw Bobby's hand. Apprehension turned to panic. Finally, Theiler kicked the door in.
Blood was everywhere. Theiler put an ear to Bobby's chest. Nothing. Bobby's friend, Homer Moore, felt for a pulse. Nothing.
Someone dialed 911, but it was too late. Bobby Janisse was dead. The native of Portland, Oregon, was five days short of his nineteenth birthday.
PEOPLE IN BOBBY'S hometown reacted to his death with shock and a terrible sense of loss. Hundreds attended funeral services for a young man who had reached folk-hero status in Portland during high school. Bobby Janisse was a black kid from a decent, middle-class family, a "role model" for other black kids.
He'd won three straight Oregon large-school wrestling titles, compiled a career mark of 123-2, was a member of the National Honor Society--straight A's his senior year--and had earned a full scholarship to ASU, one of America's foremost college wrestling factories.
That accounted for a chunk of the adulation that came his way from all corners. But it was Bobby's personality--ebullient, but not stuck on himself--that solidified his many friendships.
Bobby's teammates at ASU saw him as a determined sprite of a 126-pounder who someday would have helped them reach their goal of winning an NCAA championship. They shake their heads in frustration as they recall how he was giving all-American Shawn Charles all he could handle at practices in his last weeks.
"Bobby had national champ written all over him," says wrestler Rex Holman. But the scrapbooks that detail Bobby's athletic accomplishments tell only part of his sad story. "I don't see why he would want to give up his life," Holman says.
"No one knows why people kill themselves," George Howe Colt wrote in his new book The Enigma of Suicide. "Trying to find the answer is like trying to pinpoint what causes us to fall in love or what causes war."
Some friends insist Bobby was too "positive" to commit suicide. They theorize that his gun was faulty and he killed himself accidentally.
"Maybe that's what I have to think to get through," concedes ASU academic adviser Bettie Julkes, who was probably closer to Bobby at the university than any other adult. "I thought he was a happy, together guy."
Citing the bizarre, sudden circumstances of Bobby's death and the absence of a suicide note, Tempe police investigator Paul Guitteau listed the death as "other."
But Maricopa County chief medical examiner Hans Karnitschnig disagreed. "A locked room, a contact wound, and three live bullets in a five-bullet weapon--that's not Russian roulette," Karnitschnig says. "It adds up to suicide."
About all everyone does agree on is that Bobby Janisse was a whiz in the classroom and had the courage of a Nubian warrior on the wrestling mat. The aftershocks of his death are still being felt. Most people, when prompted, speak of Bobby with an array of emotions. Some--including 49-year-old tough-guy head wrestling coach Bobby Douglas--get tearful.
"Some people think I have a shield of steel," the coach says, "but that's far from true. I always thought I knew when one of my kids was in trouble, but I didn't. I'd just like to know what Bobby was feeling."
Many are angry--at themselves, at the university, at their God, and at Bobby for having been fool enough to turn a gun on himself.
Some friends say the shooting may have been spurred on when Bobby's girlfriend--then a Tempe McClintock High School senior--broke up with him. But they add quickly that the split wouldn't have been enough to make him suicidal.
Nor were drugs involved in Bobby Janisse's death. Tests indicated no dope in Bobby's body, and his blood-alcohol level was the equivalent of one strong margarita.
"It's still a shaky time here," says volunteer assistant wrestling coach Keith Walton. "None of us will be so naive as to think it won't happen again."
Jeff Theiler and Bobby Young--the two members of the wrestling team present when Bobby killed himself--quit school for the semester. And Bobby Douglas says he "hasn't been the same guy" since Bobby Janisse died, even with the joy of Douglas' recent selection as head coach of the 1992 Olympic wrestling team.