By KEVIN NEVERS
Rylan Cotter, the Michigan State University junior whose body was
found on Wednesday, Jan. 9, on the Brassie Golf Course, killed herself by
leaping from an electrical tower in the area of the fifth and sixth holes.
Porter County Vicki Deppe told the Chesterton Tribune today that she
has officially ruled Cotter’s death a suicide.
Deppe said that she based that determination on a number of factors: the
location of Cotter’s body, 28 feet from the base of the tower; the position
of Cotter when found, on her back; the nature of the injuries themselves,
massive and multiple blunt force trauma to the chest and abdomen; mud stains
on Cotter’s clothing; the presence in her system of an antihistamine used in
over-the-counter sleep aids; and certain, mostly unspecified, “soft signs” of
suicidal behavior, uncovered over the course of the investigation.
Deppe noted that investigators from the beginning considered it possible that
Cotter met her death in a leap or fall from the tower, but were initially
troubled by the distance of the body from base of the tower, which tapers in
as it extends up. Twenty-eight feet “is a long way,” Deppe acknowledged.
After further research, however, Deppe said that she is confident that Cotter
was physically capable of flinging herself down and out to that distance. “I
have every reason to believe, now at this point, with all the evidence in,
that that’s where she landed.”
Deppe was not able to determine the height from which Cotter jumped, but she
said that Det. Lt. Dave Cincoski of the Chesterton Police Department climbed
the tower himself.
The mud stains on Cotter’s clothing were also key to her determination, Deppe
said. Those stains were found when her clothing dried after being drenched by
torrential rains which began late on Monday, Jan. 7, and they corresponded to
the points of impact: the back of her coat and the back of a trousers leg.
But those were the only mud stains found, Deppe said, and had there been any
“outside influence”—had an unknown subject dragged her or otherwise moved
her—there would inevitably have been further staining elsewhere on her
clothing, given the muddiness of the ground.
Deppe characterized the presence of the sleep aid in Cotter’s system as
either a suicidal gesture or an unsuccessful suicide attempt. And although
none of her friends or family reported observing in Cotter any unusual
behavior in the days preceding her flight from her apartment on campus in
East Lansing, Mich., Cincoski did tell the Tribune this morning that
witnesses in Chesterton—so far as anyone knows, the last people to see her
alive—described her as being in a “despondent emotional state.”
Cincoski declined to identify those witnesses. He also declined to say at
what business Cotter was caught on video surveillance camera at a 12:44 p.m.
Monday, Jan. 7—except to repeat that the business is located on the Ind. 49
corridor—or what she may have purchased there.
Deppe did say that Cotter had no known history of suicidal behavior and that
she was not pregnant. Nor, Deppe said, was there any gross indication evident
at her autopsy of Cotter’s having recently had any sexual contact. The
results of a sexual assault kit conducted at the autopsy and submitted to the
Indiana State Police are pending.
“Some of the soft signs of suicide to me are there,” Deppe said. “You see
them in retrospect, when you dig in.”
Still, Deppe’s ruling does nothing to unravel the larger mysteries of the
case: why did Cotter take her own life? why did she leave her residence in
East Lansing in the middle of the night on Monday, Jan. 7? and why did she
stop in Chesterton? “Why she came here, why that trip occurred, nobody
knows,” Deppe said. “We have no idea. She doesn’t know anyone here. But this
is where she ended up.”
In a statement released jointly this morning by Deppe and Cincoski, Cincoski
said that he concurs with Deppe’s ruling and that “at this time, pending any
future findings or results, the criminal investigation into the death of
Rylan Cotter has been suspended.”
Cincoski did tell the Tribune that the Indiana State Police is still
scheduled to test various evidentiary materials collected over the course of
the investigation and that the results of those tests are pending.
“The family of Rylan Cotter wishes to thank those that have supported and
aided them throughout this process,” the statement said.
Cotter’s body was found around 1:05 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 9, at the Brassie
Golf Course, about one half mile to the south and east of where she had
parked her car in the lot of the Prairie Duneland Trail, off Babcock Road.
Deppe estimated that Cotter died 24 to 36 hours before the discovery of her
body. She arrived in Chesterton no earlier than 11:30 a.m. Monday, Jan. 7,
after leaving her apartment in East Lansing at approximately 1 a.m. (CST)
that day, only hours before classes were set to resume at Michigan State
University after the Christmas break.
Investigators determined that Cotter stopped—to all appearances alone—at a
motel in Benton Harbor, Mich., at around 2:30 a.m. (CST), then checked out
after a stay of eight hours. She was next seen at the Ind. 49 business around
12:44 p.m. that day and then at around 4:30 or 5 p.m. on the Prairie Duneland
Trail, both sitting in her car and walking along the trail. Cotter was
apparently never seen alive again.
Cotter, 20, of Okemos, Mich., was majoring in international relations with a
focus on African politics at the James Madison College at Michigan State
University. She was planning to serve as an intern next year at the Mandela
Peace Center in South Africa.