Friends, family remember in wake of student’s death

| Breaking News Editor

Sophomore Sarah Longyear died Friday, April 22 in Palo Alto, Calif., her hometown, after being struck by a passenger train. Longyear, who was suffering from depression, was on a leave of absence from Washington University and residing at home. She was 19 at the time of her death.

A walk-on on the varsity basketball team and member of the sorority Chi Omega, Longyear contributed to the Washington University community in a number of different ways. A National Merit Scholar in high school, Longyear was studying in the College of Arts & Sciences.

sarah photoCourtesy of Ellen Sheehy and Natalie Edwards
“She was goofy,” her mother Sally Longyear said. “People would comment on her laugh and her smile and how she would make them feel important and listen to them.”

Sophomores Ellen Sheehy and Natalie Edwards, two of Longyear’s close friends and suitemates, remember her for her sunny disposition and surprising creativity.

“She’s one of those people, always had a big smile, she was always laughing, and she was someone who when you talked to her she made people feel good about themselves,” Edwards said. “[She] was always asking questions, asking about yourself, what you were doing, what you were interested in, she really wanted to know about anything and everything about everyone else.”

“She had these felt letters that cut out in exactly the font of ‘Friends’…And underneath she had all the pictures of her friends,” Sheehy said. “[People] would look at her wall and be like ‘Oh you’re an art student’ and she was like ‘No, I’m just really good at this.’ Everything was as she liked to say ‘awesome.’”

Edwards described Longyear as a person full of passion about her involvements—someone who was excited to take part in new things and succeed.

“She walked onto the basketball team her freshman year—who does that? She just walked onto this varsity sport and showed up at practice everyday and she was passionate about it,” Edwards said. “That was just the kind of person she was—she would just get involved in things and succeed at them.”

Chancellor Mark Wrighton offered his condolences to the family following Longyear’s passing in a statement sent to Student Life.

“Like the many who knew and loved Sarah, we are terribly saddened by the news and we extend our deepest sympathies to her family. We hope they find peace during this very difficult time,” Wrighton wrote in the statement.

Her mother also remembers Longyear as a warm, effusive person and acknowledged how important her friends and communities were to Longyear.

“She was a really sweet and thoughtful and caring and fun-loving, just wanted to be accepted and just loved having friends,” Longyear said. “Ellen and Natalie were incredible support and the basketball team…were incredible support for her.”

Both her mother and her friends noted that while Longyear went to great lengths to make sure others were happy, those same efforts were often missing in her own life.

“She put so much thought into everything she did and what it really came down to was that she was a people pleaser,” Sheehy said. “She would do anything to make other people happy and to make other people’s day, but she struggled with her own happiness. She couldn’t accept herself. That’s what it comes down to.”

Her mother hopes that her daughter’s death can be an opportunity for students to become more aware of mental illness and seek help if need be.

“One thing to tell the Wash. U. students or any student, if you have a roommate or someone you know who you think might be in trouble, and the hardest thing of course is if they don’t want help, but to encourage them to seek help,” Longyear said.

Ultimately, Sheehy noted that she would remember Longyear not for whatever she was going through but for the direct impact she had made on her college experience.

“Her friendship is at the core of my Wash. U. experience,” Sheehy said. “We were always the ones who maybe smiled a little too big in the hallways. Anyone that you ever ask about her will tell you that she is an amazing, bright—everyone uses light to describe her because she brought energy to a room…Whenever she did anything, she pulled out all of the stops.”

If you or anyone you know is struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts, please reach out to these resources:

Student Health Services: (314) 935-6666

WUPD: (314) 935-5555

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: (800) 273-8255

Life Crisis Services: (314) 533-8200

 

  • Sarah Gentile

    My 19 yr old son was diagnosed with major depressive disorder at age 8. It is a chronic illness that, in most cases, can be managed with a prioritized mental health plan. For my son that means medication, therapy and support group. This plan helps lengthen the time between depressive episodes and makes them less severe but these episodes (just like asthma attacks for an asthmatic) still occur. I have heard from my son and others that they often cannot see “the light at the end of the tunnel” during an episode. Those who are in a depressive episode require medical care and, sometimes, hospitalization so they can be safe and receive intensive treatment until the episode passes. If you know or suspect that a friend is having a depressive episode, please help get them medical attention. If you suspect they have a suicide plan, ask them. If they have a plan, they will likely tell you. My son did when he was 17 and we were able to get him the help he needed. I am grateful every day.

  • Sarah Gentile

    My 19 yr old son was diagnosed with major depressive disorder at age 8. It is a chronic illness that, in most cases, can be managed with a prioritized mental health plan. For my son that means medication, therapy and support group. This plan helps lengthen the time between depressive episodes and makes them less severe but these episodes (just like asthma attacks for an asthmatic) still occur. I have heard from my son and others that they often cannot see “the light at the end of the tunnel” during an episode. Those who are in a depressive episode require medical care and, sometimes, hospitalization so they can be safe and receive intensive treatment until the episode passes. If you know or suspect that a friend is having a depressive episode, please help get them medical attention. If you suspect they have a suicide plan, ask them. If they have a plan, they will likely tell you. My son did when he was 17 and we were able to get him the help he needed. I am grateful every day.

  • Anonymoose3

    What one projects on the outside isn’t necessarily what one feels on the inside. Often times what is projected on the outside can be a; ruse, a front and really it is deep seeded dark down pain on the inside and sometimes not even knowing the whys. The brain is a touchy/complex organ and one of the most difficult to treat. This is why depression is difficult to deal with and, often times, chronic. Where’s the escape? I wish and hope there is more being done to delve into the research and even better treatments options into depression. We need to do away with the negative “STIGMA” attached to depression too!

  • Anonymoose3

    What one projects on the outside isn’t necessarily what one feels on the inside. Often times what is projected on the outside can be a; ruse, a front and really it is deep seeded dark down pain on the inside and sometimes not even knowing the whys. The brain is a touchy/complex organ and one of the most difficult to treat. This is why depression is difficult to deal with and, often times, chronic. Where’s the escape? I wish and hope there is more being done to delve into the research and even better treatments options into depression. We need to do away with the negative “STIGMA” attached to depression too!

  • Craig Williams

    Sarah came into my life as a soccer player during her middle school and early high school years. I have coached youth teams for over 30 years. Sarah was a standout athlete and person in every category. I have seen her laugh uncontrollably. I have seen her cry when the outcome failed to match her passion to achieve. She was soft spoken but could become the force on the field. All of you that knew Sarah know all of this and more.
    I now coach running at High School, Middle School, and youth levels. Our society has made it taboo for me to openly talk about depression, eating disorders, abuse, etc. to my runners. The dance around anything that isn’t sunny and happy needs to stop. It is okay to not be happy. It is okay to be sad. Depression is not a sin (it isn’t contagious either). The challenge is for all of you younger college students to make the changes happen. You win when the suicide score is 0. I will be watching. (of course, in honor of Sarah, I too will be fighting the battle alongside you). Sarah is also watching.

    • Jennifer Yarp

      Well said Craig. I miss that team and am greatly saddend by the loss of Sarah.

    • Jennifer Yarp

      Well said Craig. I miss that team and am greatly saddend by the loss of Sarah.

  • Craig Williams

    Sarah came into my life as a soccer player during her middle school and early high school years. I have coached youth teams for over 30 years. Sarah was a standout athlete and person in every category. I have seen her laugh uncontrollably. I have seen her cry when the outcome failed to match her passion to achieve. She was soft spoken but could become the force on the field. All of you that knew Sarah know all of this and more.
    I now coach running at High School, Middle School, and youth levels. Our society has made it taboo for me to openly talk about depression, eating disorders, abuse, etc. to my runners. The dance around anything that isn’t sunny and happy needs to stop. It is okay to not be happy. It is okay to be sad. Depression is not a sin (it isn’t contagious either). The challenge is for all of you younger college students to make the changes happen. You win when the suicide score is 0. I will be watching. (of course, in honor of Sarah, I too will be fighting the battle alongside you). Sarah is also watching.

  • KC

    I think the greatest tragedy here is how obviously different Sarah seemed on the outside versus how she actually felt:

    I’ve heard many students repeatedly call her “always smiling, optimistic, happy”. OF COURSE this makes it all the more shocking. We should take this time to grieve. At the same time, we must use this as a wake up call to avoid cases in the future. Academics comes second to a person’s well-being.

    We, as a community, should be doing a better job of reaching out to students no matter how “optimistic they seem”. Give every student a chance to be heard and open up — or provide them the resources available — since not all of us know where to go when we feel lost!

  • KC

    I think the greatest tragedy here is how obviously different Sarah seemed on the outside versus how she actually felt:

    I’ve heard many students repeatedly call her “always smiling, optimistic, happy”. OF COURSE this makes it all the more shocking. We should take this time to grieve. At the same time, we must use this as a wake up call to avoid cases in the future. Academics comes second to a person’s well-being.

    We, as a community, should be doing a better job of reaching out to students no matter how “optimistic they seem”. Give every student a chance to be heard and open up — or provide them the resources available — since not all of us know where to go when we feel lost!

  • V Anderson

    I encourage those who want to do something in reaction to their grief to donate to NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness.
    The link is
    https://app.mobilecause.com/f/9oz/n

    Also find out more about NAMI. As Mrs.Longyear says, if you know someone suffering from depression, encourage them to seek help. NAMI is a great resource to help you do that.

  • V Anderson

    I encourage those who want to do something in reaction to their grief to donate to NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness.
    The link is
    https://app.mobilecause.com/f/9oz/n

    Also find out more about NAMI. As Mrs.Longyear says, if you know someone suffering from depression, encourage them to seek help. NAMI is a great resource to help you do that.