Friends try to make sense of suicide on Temple campus

Philadelphia and Temple University police investigate the area where a former student committed suicide on campus Thursday.
Philadelphia and Temple University police investigate the area where a former student committed suicide on campus Thursday. (KATE McCANN / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: February 06, 2012

THE SMALL CANDLES on the ground added no warmth to the Temple University campus last night as students shuffled through the biting cold, past a makeshift memorial for a former student.

Some held pizzas and bookbags, or hurried down Liacouras Walk in talkative groups. There were skateboards and a unicycle, and a cyclist who pondered jumping over the memorial of flowers, candles and handwritten notes with his bike before pedaling off. But three people embraced there in Alumni Circle to remember Tobi Sonstroem, a friend who purged his inner demons there in the most outward manner.

"He was one of the most unique individuals I've ever known," said John Olsen, 24.

Olsen and friends Sarah Schlesinger and Abby Gray had all attended high school with Sonstroem, 25, and had gathered on the usually bustling Liacouras Walk exactly 72 hours after their friend committed suicide there by shooting himself in the head. The shooting took place about 6:30 p.m. Thursday, within a few yards of a 7-Eleven, Maxi's Pizza, Subs and Bar, and Barton Hall.

Sonstroem, according to his profile on an art-networking site, had attended Temple's Tyler School of Art and considered himself an "interactive designer and illustrator." Temple spokesman Ray Betzner said Sonstroem was not a current student and was last registered in the summer of 2010. It was unclear if Sonstroem had earned a degree, but Betzner said he completed all his classes.

Schlesinger, who attended Delaware County Christian School with Sonstroem, said he was working as a security guard, not an artist, and living in Fishtown. Sonstroem's friends and family, formerly of Berwyn, did not return requests for comment.

"I had talked to him recently and he said he wanted to get back into art," Schlesinger said.

None of three friends would speculate why he committed suicide in the middle of campus.

"It's very busy, if not the busiest place on the whole campus," said Austin Burkey, a Tyler student who stopped to look at the memorial.

On the networking website, Sonstroem's art included Web designs for a Clint Eastwood site, Abraham Lincoln robots and tribute sites to Japanese superheroes.

"He was into the quirkiest stuff," Olsen said. "Really cheesy stuff from the '70s and '80s."

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