Questions arise surrounding VMI cadet's suicide - FOX 21/27 WFXR Roanoke/WWCW Lynchburg News, Weather

Questions arise surrounding VMI cadet's suicide

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LEXINGTON (WSLS) - Fear over having a record of mental health issues may have contributed to a cadet's death at the Virginia Military Institute.

That's the indication from confidential records released to WSLS. There are also concerns that VMI failed to help the cadet, even though his superiors knew he was having suicidal thoughts.  


The body of 22-year-old cadet Eric B. Alter, of Centreville was found by Rockbridge County Sheriff's deputies near Goshen on Tuesday, April 22. His death was ruled a suicide. 

The timeline of events between Sunday, April 20, 2014 and Tuesday, April 22, 2014 is outlined in the documents released by VMI.

According to those documents, on Sunday, April 20, Alter was in his roommate, Logan Ridge's vehicle in a KMART parking lot. Alter appeared to be intoxicated.

Alter contacted VMI's lacrosse trainer, identified in the documents as Graduate Assistant Kelsey Croak, who came to pick Alter up. At that time, Croak spotted a gun in the car.

On Monday, April 21, Alter was taken to Post Hospital after reportedly making suicidal comments to another cadet. After that, he was returned to barracks.

On Tuesday, April 22, VMI Commandant of Cadets Col. Thomas H. Trumps, who has since retired from VMI, was called by LTC Sarah Jones for a meeting with Alter and Ridge back at Post Hospital. 

 

During that meeting, Col. Trumps heard about the events and spoke with Alter and Ridge about the gun in Ridge's car. Alter expressed concern about his having a record of mental health issues in light of his pending USMC commissioning. 

Col. Trumps told the cadets that since the gun was off campus, neither of the cadets would receive punishment for having the gun. Col. Trumps asked the cadets to bring him the gun for safe keeping. They were scheduled to return to Col. Trumps with the gun by 4:00 p.m.

After the two did not return by the scheduled time, Col. Trumps, along with LTC Jones, began searching for Alter. Their search lasted 45 minutes before they called 911.  

Meanwhile, Croak spoke with Alter on the phone. Documents imply Croak was trying to keep Alter on the phone in spite of failing connections and hang-ups by Alter. 

Based on Alter's conversations with Croak, they believed Alter was at his sister's apartment in Lynchburg, where police began to search for him. 


Alter was later located by Rockbridge County Sheriff's Deputies in the Goshen area. They tried to pull Alter over when Alter got out of the vehicle and ran down an embankment. 


According to the report released by the sheriff's office, deputies heard Alter say he did not want to hurt anyone and was holding a cell phone in one hand and a dark object in the other. 


At that time, Alter shot himself in the neck, resulting in his death. 


VMI officials say Alter was never taken under emergency custody orders. This is the first case of cadet suicide in more than 50 years. 

The Rockbridge County Sheriff made a statement saying he wishes outside health professionals would have been contacted.

A representative from VMI, Stewart MacInnis, also made a statement, “We are talking about the actions that were taken, what we could've done, were there any red flags? Anything in hindsight we could've done better. However, protocols were followed but we're talking about it. It was a situation that was going faster than what anyone imagined.”

Alter was survived by his parents, Bruce and Beth Alter of Centreville, and his sister, Betsy. Alter was an English major, was director of operations for the lacrosse team, and was commander of the Corps' 2nd Battalion. He was set to graduate in May, 2014 and to commission as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps.

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