By Ray Stern
By New Times
By Amy Silverman
By Stephen Lemons
By Stephen Lemons
By Monica Alonzo
By Chris Parker
By New Times
Bobby Janisse's death has raised more than the spectre of the nation's teen suicide "epidemic," which claimed 5,000 victims last year in the United States. It also has raised serious questions about the responsibilities that colleges and coaches have toward their recruited athletes.
Coach Douglas saw Bobby as a well-adjusted young man on the verge of making great contributions to the top-drawer ASU grappling program. He saw a young man who worked like a fiend at practice and hit the books almost as hard as he did the wrestling mat.
"All I saw in Bobby Janisse was someone who was improving as fast as any freshman I've ever recruited," says Douglas, a man not prone to exaggeration. "I have a great moral responsibility as a coach, but my mind is preoccupied with wrestling. My guilt comes from not having had the insight to have seen something, anything. There were things some of my assistants knew, but they didn't tell me."
Bobby's pal, Homer Moore, also knew more than the coach. "He had a lot of pressures on him," Moore says. "He was real homesick, he wanted to be near his mom, he wanted a steady girl, he wanted to look good, he wanted great grades, he wanted to kick ass in wrestling. He was a beautiful guy. But shit can build up."
TEMPE POLICE DETECTIVE Paul Guitteau searched Bobby's room for clues in the hours after the shooting. The detective found nothing there that indicated plans for suicide. But he did find some items that led him to ask pointed questions of Bobby's distraught roommate Jeff Theiler.
There were two expensive bicycles, one of which still had a sturdy lock attached to its frame. There were two fancy backpacks. The detective saw several unopened packages of film and numerous sundries. He also found a plastic change container, with an inscription from the Cerebral Palsy Foundation.
Theiler told Detective Guitteau that Bobby had stolen each of these items. Through his many interviews, the detective discovered a Bobby Janisse who was more than a fun-loving pal and talented wrestler.
This Bobby was a part-time thief whose recent past included a stint with the Crips gang in Portland. He had told Theiler and others he'd occasionally sold crack for the gang. This Bobby had been toting a .38 around Tempe for weeks.
Days before he shot himself, Bobby loaded one bullet and looked down the gun barrel as roommate Theiler watched. On another occasion, fellow wrestler Bobby Young says, Bobby Janisse also pointed the gun at his own head.
They tried to stop Bobby from such foolhardy behavior, the wrestlers told the cop, but he'd just shrug and laugh.
ROY PITTMAN FIRST noticed Bobby Janisse at the neighborhood recreation club he co-founded in Portland during the 1970s. Bobby's mom, Brenda Polk, was playing volleyball at the Peninsula wrestling club and six-year-old Bobby--her only child--would tag along.
"I talked his mom into letting him wrestle," Pittman recalls. "He was so tiny, but our club is a sanctuary for all kids. We have lots of what the system calls dysfunctional kids, and Bobby needed some help in his formative years because his folks had split up and all that. I became like a father to him. He became like a son to me."
Few could resist the wisp of a lad with the cherubic smile and eager-to-please nature. Bobby became a favorite at the club, but his popularity was due to more than a winning personality.
"Man, did he love to compete," Pittman recalls. "He'd always smell like baby powder, always look so innocent, but he'd do the job on you and he'd get on out of there. He hated losing so much that he disciplined himself not to lose."
By the time he was a teen, Bobby had earned a reputation around Oregon as a wrestling dynamo. He was a fluid competitor with exceptional balance and positioning, a must in freestyle wrestling. And, says Donny McPherson, his coach at Portland Jefferson High School, "He was a giver. He would talk to the younger kids and he would spend time with the older people, too. He was a kid who you wouldn't mind losing to, he was so humble.
"But," McPherson adds, "he was a kid, and he did the things that kids do." In high school, those things included hanging out with members of Portland's burgeoning gang population.
McPherson puts this spin on it: "Bobby wasn't a gang member, but he was infatuated with gang activity. He had been on top for years, winning tournaments, making A's, but he wanted to be one of the boys. A lot of boys in his neighborhood are gang members. It's not easy to keep kids away from the gangs, my own son included."
That version seems benign, if Bobby's own accounts to his friends are to be believed. "From what he told us, in his area of town, you got to join a gang," says his friend Bobby Young. "He wasn't bragging about it at all. They're either your friends or your enemies. But he said that when he came down to Phoenix that ASU was going to be a new life for him, a new group of friends. He said the gangs were nothing but trouble."