Andrea Cooper thought her daughter, Kristin, couldn’t be happier on New Year’s Eve 1995 but was overcome with grief when she came home and found her only child dead from a self-inflicted gunshot.
Cooper spoke in Woodward Hall Wednesday about her daughter’s death. The Coopers were all former members of Greek organizations, and her visit was sponsored by UNM sororities and fraternities, Albuquerque Rape Crisis Center, UNM Student Health Center and UNM Women’s Resource Center.
Following the death of her 20-year-old daughter, Cooper made speaking at college campuses part of her therapy and tribute to Kristin’s life. She calmly and frankly related the details surrounding her daughter’s life and death to a crowd of 250 that, at times, was moved to tears by her story.
“When my husband and I pulled into the driveway that night, we were happy, but surprised to see our daughter home by 2 a.m. on a night known for partying,” she said. “All the lights were on, which wasn’t unusual because Kristin was home alone and it made her feel safe. But when we walked in the music was blasting, which was strange for our daughter, and her head was extremely close to the speakers. Her eyes were closed and I knew something was wrong.”
Cooper said she thought her daughter had passed out, then thought she had died of alcohol poisoning when she felt no pulse, but her heart sank when she saw a gun between Kristin’s legs.
“I shouted to my husband, Mike, ‘Kristin’s dead, she shot herself,’” she calmly told the audience while wiping away tears. “He said ‘What?’ and I said ‘Kristin’s dead, she shot herself.’ He ran to her side and saw blood I never did, and started sobbing.”
After calling the police, it took the Coopers five days to pick up her belongings that had been used as evidence. During that time, Cooper said she thought Kristin had killed herself over a bad break up, but after reading her journal she discovered that her daughter had been raped by a friend four months before her death.
“She killed herself because she couldn’t handle the guilt and pain she suffered after being raped,” Cooper said while holding back more tears. “She never told us and carried all that pain. She never told us because she didn’t want to hurt us.”
Cooper later learned that a few friends knew Kristin had been raped, but none ever thought she would commit suicide.
Cooper said her daughter hid a deep depression from her parents and never told them the reason she had been dumped by her boyfriend was because he didn’t know how to handle that she had been raped.
Cooper told the audience to watch for the following signs of deep depression in their peers:
l Continued feelings of sadness and helplessness
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l Loss of interest or pleasure in activities
l Decreased energy and fatigue
l Sleep and eating problems
l Difficulty concentrating and making decisions
l Feelings of guilt, worthlessness and helplessness
l Irritability or excessive crying
l Chronic physical aches
l Thoughts of death or suicide attempts
“I want to urge you to get help if someone you know is depressed,” she said. “Don’t blow it off because your help could make a big difference.”
She offered the following tips for those dealing with people who have been raped:
l Listen, do not judge
l Offer shelter
l Be attainable
l Give comfort
l Be patient and understanding
l Don’t be overly protective
l Encourage action and offer to go with the victim
l Accept his or her solution
l Put aside your feelings
l Cooper warned the audience to be weary of happiness after a depression because suicide victims tend to be happy when they’ve made the decision to end their pain by killing themselves.
She closed her speech by recommending the book “Recovering from Rape,” by Linda Ledray, because it devotes half the text to victims and half to their friends and family who are considered secondary victims.
“Get to know the rape outreach centers in your area, get involved and know that you have someplace to go if you are in trouble,” Cooper said as she bowed for a standing ovation.