The mother of Larry Cook, the University of Dayton freshman who died on campus last week after falling from a sixth-story window, tearfully said she only wants the truth about the circumstances of her son’s death.
Jennifer Rucker — surrounded by supporters wearing Cook’s favorite color, red, during a rally Tuesday — said her son would not have taken his own life. The Montgomery County Coroner ruled his April 2 death was a suicide and Dayton police said they are investigating, but have no indication at this time that Cook’s death was anything but a suicide. The university said it is assisting in the police investigation.
With about 75 people behind her at the rally in front of the UD campus, Rucker begged to the media and UD officials to, “please clear my baby’s name.”
“What you all have accused him of doing is not in his DNA, I promise you,” she said. “This baby could not sleep for planning the next five seconds of his life.”
Cook’s family has hired noted Florida attorney Christopher Chestnut from the 2011 Florida A&M University band hazing death case to lead an independent investigation. Chestnut said Cook, an 18-year-old chemical engineering major, did not leave a suicide note, and there is no video evidence or witnesses in his death. However, Chestnut said, “the evidence we’ve recovered suggests this was not a suicide” and said “all signs point to a cover-up.” The crowd behind Chestnut at the rally held signs that read “uncovering the cover-up” and chanted “justice for Larry.”
Chestnut said an expert flown in to perform an independent autopsy found Cook’s injuries were not consistent with someone jumping off a building in a suicide, but Chestnut declined to provide details or name the expert.
Authorities said Cook fell from a sixth-story window of the Stuart Hall Complex, where he lived on the second floor. Dayton police have submitted DNA evidence and fingerprint samples to the crime lab for their investigation and are awaiting electronic evidence, as well, said Dayton police Sgt. Rick Blommel.
Blommel said Cook was in an open area on the sixth floor of Stuart at the time of his death, and it appears he was alone. The screen of the window had been removed. Chestnut said Cook, 5-feet 2-inches tall, would not have been able to climb and jump out of the window alone and “there’s a window next to it that, if someone was going to jump, it would be a lot easier.”
The university said it “immediately called Dayton homicide for a death investigation, the scene was preserved and the evidence processed — all according to standard police protocol,” according to a statement. UD added that there is no evidence of hazing or foul play, and Cook was not a member of a fraternity nor was he engaged in a membership intake process to join a fraternity.
Chestnut said he has learned of evidence suggesting Cook may have been pledging a fraternity, though he was “not at liberty to disclose” details about that at this time.
Chestnut also accused the university of paving over the area where Cook’s body was found. The university said a “local company that specializes in crime scene clean-up cleaned the area and put a sealant with a biocide in it. Because of the discoloration caused by the biocide, our facilities crew then applied a black sealant to the area.”
The coroner’s office said its final report will not be available for six to eight weeks.
Cook loved UD and college life
The university is encouraging “anyone with information that disputes the official ruling to come forward and share it with police.”
“Larry was a beautiful young man who was very much loved at the University of Dayton. His friends and our campus community grieve his loss deeply,” the university said. “Our hearts remain filled with prayers for this student, his family and friends.”
Cook’s funeral was Monday at the Quinn Chapel AME Church in Forest Park, and more than 700 mourners attended. They recalled Cook for his determination, wit and deep respect for people, and remembered him as a student leader and mentor to troubled youth.
They said in high school, Cook was an active member of a suicide prevention group at Sycamore High School.
His mother said Tuesday he loved UD, his family and throughout his whole life had the nickname “Smiley.” “The glass was always half full,” she said. He was also planning to celebrate his 19th birthday on April 24.
“What evidence is there that he committed suicide? There is none,” Chestnut said. “There’s no suicide note. There’s no depression. He was smiling and laughing the day before.”
Chestnut said he has “circumstantial evidence to suggest what may or may not have happened” before Cook’s death. “But all of that evidence confirms that this was not a suicide.
“At this point we’re not pointing any fingers at anyone,” he said.