Hours after he learned that his younger sister had survived a suicide attempt, Sean Thompson walked by her residence hall and stopped to read a chalk-drawn message that said “Be Strong.”
Thompson, who had just left his 20-year-old sister’s bedside at GW Hospital, where she will soon have her fourth surgery, said the writing “just really tugged at the heart.”
The family from Kansas is now beginning a difficult process of recovery – one that Thompson said he is grateful to have. Last Thursday, he said his sister, junior Emily Thompson, had jumped from a ninth-floor window of Shenkman Hall. By Wednesday, he said she had left the hospital’s intensive care unit.
He said his sister isn’t suffering from brain trauma and has no internal organ damage. She can feel her limbs and “wiggle her toes” even after a fall that broke both her feet, both femurs, her knee cap, right arm and cracked her spine.
“I know the term gets tossed around a lot but it was a miraculous survival,” Sean Thompson, 32, said. “She’s doing great but there’s a lot of work to be done before we get into rehab.”
His single mother, who raised Emily, Sean and their older sister by herself, flew to D.C. from Fort Worth, Texas, where she had moved from Kansas to take a higher-paying job and help Emily pay for college.
When Sean flew back to Kansas earlier this week, he started writing his family’s story for a GoFundMe campaign, which he launched Tuesday to help cover the costs of medical care, rehabilitation and therapy. As of early Thursday afternoon, donors have broken the family’s $10,000 goal by more than $4,000.
“I just want to say thank you so much to everyone who’s donated just in the last 12 hours,” Sean Thompson said Wednesday night. “I will call my mom and tell her, and when I do, I’ll have to make sure she’s sitting down… She needs a good scare right now, you know.”
The suicide attempt stunned a GW community still healing from the losses of six students in the last year. Three of those students committed suicide in West Hall on the Mount Vernon Campus in as many months.
With emergency vehicles rushing to a residence hall for the fourth time, many students had a shared reaction: Not again. Dozens of students watched on street corners as police shut down part of 23rd Street for two hours. They remembered campus vigils, where classmates, fraternity brothers and professors stood shoulder to shoulder while friends and family members shared their memories of the students who had died.
But this time the story turned to one of the University coming together through an outpouring of support for a shocked but grateful family.
Close friends have left words of encouragement on the crowdfunding page. Others said while they didn’t know her personally, they wanted to show support.
Sophomore Hannah Sofield, though she has never met Emily, said she made a donation because mental illness and depression run in her family.
“If me giving $15 would give her another shot at life, I thought it would be worth it,” she said.
Sean Thompson said his sister has had a history of depression and that he hopes her story inspires students to “help others that need the help and get help themselves.”
“I want people to be helped by this and not scared or hurt or worried. I want whatever good that can come from it to come from it,” Sean Thompson said. “Talk to your roommates and talk to your friends. Call home and talk to your mom even. Use this as a reminder that everyone has everyone’s back.”
He said Emily has “worked very hard to conquer” her mental illness, taking medication and keeping in touch with her family.
“That’s one of those things, you know, you can do everything right, it’s just hard to predict,” he said.
Since last year’s tragedies, the University has placed permanent counseling services on the Mount Vernon Campus. Students have formed organizations centered on mental health, while the Program Board and Residence Hall Association organized a month-long awareness campaign this fall. D.C. residents living in the neighborhood surrounding the Vern have offered to open their homes to students feeling stress or homesickness.
Sean Thompson said he was grateful for GW’s support. The day after his sister was taken to the hospital, he said Vernon Williams, the Center for Student Engagement’s director of third-year and fourth-year experience, sat with him while Emily underwent one of her surgeries. No other member of the family was there yet, and Williams kept Sean’s mind off worrying by talking about college basketball.
More than 400 people have donated to the Thompson family’s fund. Two anonymous donors have each given $1,000.
“The big thing is she survived. The cash part is so secondary to that,” Sean Thompson said. “That’s more than I could ever ask for. We got everything we needed right there.”
Eva Palmer contributed reporting.