Disappearances linked to stress

by Brady Averill

Part-time University student Andrew T. Morgan never expected to come home Thursday to find police, volunteers, family and media waiting for him, he said.

The search for the missing student began Tuesday after roommates, co-workers and family realized nobody had heard from Morgan since Sept. 29.

Perhaps rare to cases in which college students go missing, Morgan returned home safely. Yet, family and friends still said that they had feared the worst.

Morgan’s disappearance is similar to other missing persons cases, in which students blamed their abrupt departures on too much stress and pressure.

“Students are certainly under a lot of stress,” said Dr. Edward Ehlinger, director of Boynton Health Service.

When stress or pressure mounts, students use different mechanisisms to react, he said.

In Morgan’s case, he left home without telling anyone.

Unexpected journey

In an interview Friday, Morgan outlined his vacation from life.

Sitting in his north Minneapolis house Sept. 30, Morgan decided to get in his car and take a drive, he said.

Without a bag and his cell phone, Morgan drove and didn’t know where he’d stop, he said.

The trip took him to Wisconsin, where, he said, he booked a hotel room and dealt with personal problems.

While Morgan took a break from his problems, family and friends grew concerned. On Tuesday, Morgan’s father notified police, flew from his Colorado home to Minneapolis and began the search.

The search continued for two days before the student returned home.

Morgan didn’t know his trip would involve the Minneapolis Police Department, numerous volunteers and media, he said.

“This was definitely not one of the scenarios I ran through my head when I came back,” he said.

University Police Chief and assistant vice president for the Department of Public Saftey Greg Hestness said it’s not uncommon for students to leave the University for several days without notifying anyone.

“We do have students who go missing and do show up,” he said.

Most students are of adult age and they can do what they want, he said, but it can result in sleepless nights for parents.

A stressful time

A 2001 Boynton Health Service student health assessment survey found 10.5 percent of responding students said they had experienced at least three stressful events in the previous year.

“All of our data show students experience a lot of stress from school, from finances, from social situations,” Ehlinger said.

Though stress adds up for many students, it’s unusual for people to leave for several days without letting anyone know, Ehlinger said.

“Most people don’t just disappear,” he said. “That’s why it was such an unusual thing for this young man.”

People can cope with stress in multiple ways, such as taking a walk, sleeping, exercising, writing, meditating or listening to music, Ehlinger said.

First-year students Paula Piazza, Emily Garber and Abigail

Bar-Lev said they’re already stressed after their first month of college.

“I think for us, more so, it’s the new environment,” Piazza said.

Combine that with a tough work load, and it’s a lot to deal with, she said.

Bar-Lev said that if she were stressed, she’d go to a movie or hang out with friends but never just leave school without telling anyone.

“You’ve gotta get a good balance,” she said. “I think as time goes on, you find that.”

A justifiable search

Morgan said he now realizes how his actions affected people.

Hestness said that sometimes good choices aren’t made, and consequences of decisions aren’t always considered.

But the impact can be substantial, he said.

The case of University of Wisconsin student Audrey Seiler cost thousands of dollars and took hundreds of hours from police. She was later found to have staged her own abduction, saying she was depressed.

In all missing persons scenarios, the University police department reacts to the case as if foul play might be involved, Hestness said.

“You have to treat everyone as the facts you have before you,” he said. “You really only get one chance to do the investigation, and if you dismiss it from up front, you really compromise the situation.”

While Seiler and Morgan’s cases both ended safely, Hestness said, there have been instances in the region where the outcomes were grave, he said.

For example, Chris Jenkins, Erika Dalquist and Dru Sjodin were all young adults who went missing and were later found dead.

All disappearances still should garner people’s attention, students said.

“I think we’re still at the point where people will still think they’re missing,” first-year student Jason Menden said.

Garber agreed.

“I think you should prepare for the worst, but hope for the best,” she said.

Katie Jensen, a family friend and University student who helped search for Morgan, said she was a little annoyed when she heard Morgan decided to leave for several days without telling anyone.

“It’s unfortunate that it had to waste people’s time and taxpayers’ money, but at least he’s safe and we know where he is now,” she said.

Morgan’s next step

This weekend, Morgan’s family stayed with him to talk about the next step. His father, Tom Morgan, said the decision is his son’s.

Andrew Morgan said he’s taking a leave of absence from work and putting school on the backburner for now.

“I don’t expect him to head off again,” Tom Morgan said. “I think he’s learned that lesson.”