By Elizabeth Lehman
Content warning: This article contains discussion about death and suicide.
On the afternoon of Friday, Sept. 22 Youngstown State University confirmed a death outside Stambaugh Stadium.
The following Monday, the Mahoning County Coroner’s Office released the person’s name to the media: Alaina. The office said there was no evidence of foul play.
While YSU police continue to investigate the case, the community is left to try to make sense of the tragedy.
According to a public Facebook post by Alaina from 2015, she identified herself as transgender and bisexual. She addressed having mental health issues as a result of her family history and also from enduring years of guilt and shame as she worked on coming to grips with her identity.
“Then there is the discrimination, prejudice, hatred, rejection by family and friends and other things along those lines I deal with and have dealt with since ‘coming out’ and finally working on being ME!” Alaina’s post read.
Juliann Brown first met Alaina while they were students at YSU. They both graduated in 1990. Brown said when she first met Alaina she was living as a male and she enjoyed golfing.
“[She] has struggled the last three to five years exceptionally hard but has always had a struggle with gender for the last 15 to 20 years,” Brown said.
Rachel Marzolo met Alaina in 2008 when they both lived at Pepper Tree apartments in Niles.
“I remember the very first time I met her she was dressed very nicely and so put together,” Marzolo said.
Marzolo said eventually she saw less and less of Alaina.
“Alaina struggled with not just depression but body issues as she was born in the wrong body,” Marzolo said.
According to the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation website, surveys of transgender people consistently report markedly higher rates of suicide attempts.
“Two key suicide risk factors for LGBT people are individual-level factors such as depression and experiences of stigma and discrimination, including anti-LGBT hostility, harassment, bullying and family rejection. There is growing evidence that the two factors are linked,” GLAAD’s report said.
Brown said Alaina eventually moved to Las Vegas.
“I thought that that would be the perfect place for [her] to try [her] new lifestyle of transitioning.
And even though [she] still had a lot of bad days [she] was definitely happier trying to become a new part of a community in a new city,” Brown said.
Marzolo said it was in Las Vegas where her friend took the name Alaina.
“While in Vegas, she really had the opportunity to come into her true skin,” Marzolo said.
However, Marzolo said Alaina contended with personal problems and sank back into depression.
She said eventually Alaina decided to try to transition back to living as a male.
“Her reasoning was because she wasn’t getting the hormones she needed to maintain the feminine features,” Marzolo said. She said Alaina decided to return home in August to be with her family.
Brown said Alaina was in Ohio for about a month. She said Alaina was overwhelmed, feeling anxious and terrified.
Brown said on the night of Sept. 21, Alaina went to a local hospital for help. She said Alaina was admitted overnight and was released the next morning.
As reported by The Vindicator, an ambulance was called to the university about 12:10 p.m. on Sept. 22 for a report that someone fell from Stambaugh Stadium.
Ann Jaronski, director of student counseling in Counseling Services, said it is unknown what exactly happened.
“We are missing so much information here and can only get info from those left behind. It’s hard not to speculate, but she cannot speak for herself at this point,” Jaronski said.
Jaronski said the path to mental wellness is often comprised of twists and turns and bumps. She said people need to reach out for help.
“While there are no guarantees of a particular desired outcome, reaching out for help and having positive connections with others are still the best choices we can make in being and staying mentally well,” Jaronski said.
Brown said she still can’t believe what happened. Marzolo remembers the type of person Alaina was.
“Alaina had the biggest heart a person could have,” Marzolo said.
Please reach out if you or someone you know is struggling. Student counseling is available at University Counseling Services, Jones Hall, 330-941-3737. Counseling assistance for campus employees is available by contacting the IMPACT Solutions EAP & Work Life Program at 1-800-277-6007. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached 24 hours a day at 1-800-273-8255.