An Arizona State University junior attending college on scholarship committed suicide on the first day of the spring semester by jumping off the roof of a building on campus.
Thomas Wagoner, a 20-year-old economics student, jumped from an unidentified building on the Tempe campus about 2 a.m. Shortly after, around 2:30 a.m., ASU police officers responded to a call about a man on the ground and discovered Wagoner’s body.
“I just don’t understand why he did what he did,” says his mother, Carey Wagoner. “I saw him at Christmas, and he acted totally normal."
His best friend and roommate, Jared Blevins, 21, who lived with him in an apartment off campus, says Thomas left the house about 10 p.m. Sunday. Somewhat strangely, he had taken his Nintendo Wii from the living room the roommates shared. When Blevins woke up in the morning, he saw he had missed a text from Thomas.
“It said I could have what I got him for his birthday this past year,” Blevins says. “I thought that was fucking weird. I texted Thomas back but he didn’t answer.”
When they couldn't reach him, Blevins and another roommate entered Wagoner’s bedroom.
“We walked into his room and saw a stack of suicide notes on his bed,” he says. “We also saw boxes with people’s names on them for who he wanted to have his stuff.”
That’s when Blevins filed a missing persons report. By 1 p.m., a detective had confirmed that his roommate had been found dead.
Although it was the first day of the spring semester, Blevins doesn’t believe that school was the cause of Wagoner’s anxiety.
“It wasn’t school stress," he says. "He mentioned being depressed. I had known he was depressed. But I didn’t realize how depressed he was. I thought he would talk to me or one of our friends.”
ASU Police Department spokeswoman Nicole Franks confirmed that Wagoner was found dead on Monday, but she declined to release further information. According to Franks, Wagoner was not enrolled in the university for the spring.
"Our thoughts are with his family at this time," Franks says.
The second leading cause of death for college students is suicide, according to suicide.org. And the number one cause of suicide for college student is untreated depression.
Growing up in the tiny town of St. John’s, Wagoner, who was half-Asian, experienced bullying and racial discrimination as a child and teen at St. John's High School, according to his family.
Still, when Thomas got to ASU, he seemed to thrive, Carey says.
“When he got to college, I asked him if he was still experiencing discrimination,” Carey says. “He said, ‘Once I got to ASU, I wasn’t a minority anymore. So I’m not discriminated against anymore.'”
Still, the bullying seemed to have deeply scarred Wagoner. In his suicide note, he mentioned it and said he “didn’t see the purpose in living anymore.”
“When you have racial discrimination going on, you get pent-up anger in you,” says his mother, who is Asian and says she also faced discrimination. “And sometimes it’s just becomes overwhelming.”
Wagoner was raised Mormon along with his brother and sister but had grown disenchanted with the religion and identified as agnostic. He earned a partial scholarship to college by winning several state and regional awards in the academic decathlon, as well as receiving Pell Grants.
“I just remember how incredibly smart the kid was,” Carey says. “Nothing gave you any clue that anything was wrong.”
To scrape together money for living expenses, Wagoner worked various part-time job and sold blood and plasma.
His friends and family urge anyone who is experiencing depression or suicidal thought to seek help. ASU offers counseling and suicide prevention programs.
“I would say if you are concerned at all then you should get help," Blevins says. "Because I didn’t realize how bad it was with Thomas. And I knew him better than anyone else.”
If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, please contact the Arizona Suicide Prevention Hotline at 480-784-1500.
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