Prosecuting Attorney's Office to Review Alleged Notre Dame Sexual Assault

By Mary Collins

November 22, 2010 Updated Nov 22, 2010 at 11:17 AM EDT

FORT WAYNE, Ind., (Indiana's NewsCenter)--- St. Joseph County prosecuting attorney’s office will look into an alleged sexual assault that reportedly took place in a Notre Dame dorm on Aug. 31.

This comes after the Chicago Tribune reported a 19-year-old Saint Mary’s College student apparently committed suicide after telling University of Notre Dame police that she had been sexually attacked by a football player in a dorm room nine days before her death.

Elizabeth "Lizzy" Seeberg, a freshman 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.

After the Chicago Tribune article was published, Saint Mary’s College spokeswoman Gwen O’Brien released this statement.

“The loss of this first-year student was a tremendous blow to the students, faculty, and administration and we continue to offer our heartfelt condolences to her family and those close to her. Saint Mary’s College does not comment on matters that may infringe on the privacy of our current or former students. We are also respecting the privacy of the Seeberg family.”

“At Saint Mary's College, the safety, security and well-being of our students are our top priorities. We take our responsibility to guide them through their four years at Saint Mary’s very seriously. As an all-women’s college, Saint Mary’s provides our young women with a variety of programs, many of which are required, to prepare them for life in the world today.”

But that world seemed to stop on the Saint Mary’s campus Sunday afternoon as students learned of the allegations.

"Somebody is dead and whether this girl killed herself over this situation or whatever was the case, the fact that there are rumors means clarity needs to be made. So I appreciate that somebody looked further into it because if any of it’s true, something needs to happen,” Saint Mary’s freshman Alexis Gipson said as she walked through campus.

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 told the Chicago Tribune Friday.

In the months since Seeberg's death, the university and its police force have denied formal requests for information from the Chicago 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 Chicago Tribune 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.

Notre Dame Football Coach Brian Kelly says "I saw the story, but as you know, anything that this article alleges would be a university matter.”

Kelly won’t answer any questions about when he found out about the allegations and what the football program is going about it.

“From my standpoint as the head football coach I think it was made clear that the university is going to deal with any matters of this nature,” Kelly says during a phone conference Sunday. “One of the reasons I came to Notre Dame is I have the same standards that our university does. We are in lock step relative to our standards that we hold here at Notre Dame. For me, that’s all I can give you relative to the specifics."

When asked about a sign in the locker room promoting respect for women, the coach said, "We have those commandments in our locker room. I'm a dad. I'm a father. I have a daughter. Those are very, very important things to me and very, very important to the culture within our football program. "I can tell you what I believe as a parent, I can tell you what I believe as a football coach. The commandments that we have are very, very important. I've been a head football coach for 20-years and I can tell you emphatically that I want the right kind of guys. Those values are important to me. They've been the cornerstone of everything I've done in my football program. I will continue to do that here at The University of Notre Dame."

Notre Dame 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 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.

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."

Information from the Chicago Tribune and WNDU.com were used in this story.


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