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South Bend Tribune
By STACY St. CLAIR and TODD LIGHTY, Chicago Tribune Reporters
A 19-year-old Northbrook, Ill. woman died of an apparent suicide nine days after telling University of Notre Dame police that she had been sexually attacked by a football player in a dorm room, the Tribune has learned.
Elizabeth “Lizzy” Seeberg, a freshman at neighboring St. Mary’s College who had battled depression, apparently overdosed on prescription medication in her own room during the third week of classes in September. The player, meanwhile, has remained on the field.
More than two months later, Notre Dame refuses to publicly acknowledge the case, and what actions university officials have taken to investigate her allegation remain largely unknown.
Campus authorities did not tell the St. Joseph County Police Department investigating Seeberg’s death about her report of a sexual attack, county officials said. Nor did they refer the case to the county’s special victims unit, which was established to handle sex offenses, according to prosecutors.
Former federal prosecutor Zachary Fardon, who tried ex-Gov. George Ryan, has been hired by Seeberg’s parents to look into circumstances surrounding her allegations and Notre Dame’s investigation.
“At this time, we’re not prepared to make any comment about Notre Dame’s investigation,” he said Friday.
In the months since Seeberg’s death, the university and its police force have denied formal requests for information from the Tribune, asserting it is not bound by open records laws that make public reports filed at other Indiana police departments.
The alleged attack occurred Aug. 31, the second week of classes at Notre Dame.
Seeberg told her dorm mates about the incident upon returning to St. Mary’s campus and hand-wrote a statement that evening, a source said.
She reported it to Notre Dame police at 5 p.m. the following day. The department’s Web site twice refers to a single alleged sex crime on Aug. 31, listing it once as a sexual battery and once as a sexual assault by an acquaintance. The documents provided no further description. A source said that her allegations did not describe penetration, but a sexual attack that ended when there was a knock on the door.
Seeberg received treatment at a local hospital, consented to a DNA evidence kit and was offered counseling, sources said.
One law enforcement record showed she received assistance from Belles Against Violence, a St. Mary’s program that helps victims of sex crimes.
Notre Dame police could have turned the case over to the county’s special victims unit, which is trained to handle sex-crime investigations. However, officials did not do so, and a campus police log shows the matter was assigned within the department.
A spokeswoman for St. Joseph County Prosecutor Michael Dvorak said campus authorities have not asked the office to charge anyone in connection with the alleged sexual attack. She said she “couldn’t say” whether the office had been consulted on the case.
Seeberg was interviewed by Notre Dame police about the alleged attack, and a source said she provided two written statements and pointed out a player from his picture on a Notre Dame roster.
The ChicagoTribune is not identifying the football player because he has not been charged with a crime. He has not responded to e-mail messages seeking comment.
The university declined to make first-year coach Brian Kelly available for comment about the allegation against his player, saying any such incident “would be addressed institutionally, not by the football coach.”
Notre Dame also declined to make university officials available, but issued a written statement Thursday: “Any time we are made aware of a student potentially violating university policies, we implement a process that is careful and thorough so that facts can be gathered, rumors and misinformation can be sorted out, and an informed decision can be made about what action to take if action is warranted. We take our obligation seriously, we involve law enforcement officials as appropriate, and we act in accordance with the facts.”
The Chicago Tribune’s findings come as Notre Dame’s football program grapples with fallout from the Oct. 27 death of team videographer Declan Sullivan, a 20-year-old junior from Long Grove who was killed during practice when a scissor lift he was working on toppled in high winds. The athletic department has been criticized for failing to take responsibility for the incident and for appearing to put the team’s interests before Sullivan’s safety.
St. Mary’s was supposed to have marked a new beginning for Seeberg, a devout Catholic whose anxiety disorder occasionally led to bouts of depression, friends and sources said. She left the University of Dayton following one semester in 2009 and transferred to the private women’s college in northern Indiana. She had plans to become a nurse.
“She was so excited and so enthusiastic about starting the year off right,” said Lauren Emde, a close high school friend who said she was unaware of the alleged attack. “She had a whole plan about what she was going to be.”
Seeberg became despondent after reporting the alleged attack, sources said.
One source said that she suddenly felt self-conscious on St. Mary’s campus, where the 1,600-member student body is about three-quarters the size of her old high school, Glenbrook North. She feared people would dislike her for accusing a Notre Dame athlete of a sex crime and that she would wear the incident “like a scarlet letter” throughout her college career, the source said.
She expressed suicidal thoughts to a counselor, according to the death investigation report written by the county police department.
Three days after she alleged the attack, Seeberg’s family was in South Bend on the first home football weekend of the season. Wearing a green Notre Dame T-shirt and sporting a temporary “ND” tattoo on her cheek, Seeberg posed for pictures with her St. Mary’s dorm mates at a tailgate party.
According to a source familiar with Seeberg’s final days, she and her St. Mary’s friends already had plans to attend the football game and she was making efforts to keep normalcy in her life, including attending class. Her family was there that weekend to support her.
The following Friday, Sept. 10, Seeberg missed a counseling session, and a staff member from Belles Against Violence went to check on her about 2:30 p.m., county police records show. She was found unconscious and barely breathing in her dorm room.
Seeberg was taken to Memorial Hospital in South Bend, where she died of a suspected drug overdose, according to the sheriff’s office. Toxicology reports have not come back yet, but authorities believe she ingested a lethal dosage of Effexor, a drug for treating depression and anxiety.
St. Joseph County police handled the death investigation, but its officers were unaware of the sexual attack allegation, Assistant Chief William Redman said. Contacted by the Tribune nearly three weeks after Seeberg’s overdose, Redman said no one from Notre Dame had spoken to his department about her apparent suicide.
The death stunned St. Mary’s, where campus officials have only said that Seeberg “died suddenly” at the hospital. In a letter to parents and students, college President Carol Ann Mooney acknowledged that “we all have many questions about Lizzy’s death.”
“Although we do not know the cause of her death, we want to stop any potential rumors by stating that no crime occurred on our campus related to her death,” she wrote.
St. Mary’s is across the street from Notre Dame.
Mooney listed Belles Against Violence, the sex-crime counseling center, as one of four places where students could receive help in the wake of Seeberg’s passing.
Mooney declined to speak to the Tribune about Seeberg’s death.
An estimated 400 people attended a Sept. 13 memorial service for Seeberg on St. Mary’s campus. The former Illinois state scholar and Glenbrook North swim team member was remembered for her friendship, sunny demeanor and dedication to her Church.
Seeberg’s parents, Tom and Mary, declined to be interviewed, but on Friday the family issued a statement through their lawyer:
“We are still mourning the loss of our beautiful daughter and sister, Lizzy. She had a big smile that was a window to her big heart. She always had a kind word for others. Lizzy gave more to others in her short 19 years than most people give in a lifetime. Lizzy is deeply missed, but her giving spirit lives on in her family and her many friends.”
The oldest of three children, Seeberg had been active in St. Norbert Catholic Church in Northbrook, her family’s longtime parish. She was involved in youth ministry throughout high school, helped with the children’s nursery program and volunteered at a local soup kitchen once a month, said Maggie Bruce, the church’s youth ministry coordinator. She also spent the past four summers rehabilitating homes in Benton Harbor, Mich., as part of her church’s Habitat for Humanity mission.
“She was such a dear person,” Bruce said. “She was as kind as you could be, always willing to reach out to someone else. A beautiful smile and a beautiful spirit inside and out.”
Seeberg’s family members are well-known donors and volunteers in Chicago’s Catholic community. Her father is on the president’s council at Christ the King Preparatory, a Jesuit high school that aims to bring affordable secondary education to the impoverished West Side.
For her part, Lizzy and her Glenbrook North friends raised money for the West Side school by making and selling picture frames.
“Lizzy had a real sense that God had blessed her, and she wanted to give back to those who were not fortunate to have equal access to a solid education,” Christ the King President Christopher Devron wrote after her death. “For her youthful age, she had a mature awareness about injustice, and wanted to make the world a better place.”
Chicago Tribune reporter Kristen Schorsch contributed to this report.
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