We got the call that all parents dread. Our oldest son Robbie had died, somehow, on the campus of East Tennessee State University on March 21, 2003 at about 1:15 A.M. In disbelief my wife and I drove the 20 miles to the campus apartments to find out if it was true. We arrived and asked, "What happened?" "Head trauma" was the answer. So deep was my shock, I felt like I was in a long, dark tunnel. I was asked, "Why would your son take his own life?" or something to that effect. My immediate reply was, "No way!"
Mary and Jim Nottingham
As I look back over the nightmarish events of that night I realize that East Tennessee State University had already decided how Robbie met his fate, already sent the Johnson City Police Department away, already removed our son from the scene and were in the process of washing his blood away. Furthermore, they didn't secure his room or take fingerprints until days later. We learned that there was security videotape, which would have recorded comings and goings from the parking lot that night, but that it had been recorded over!
All our lives my wife and I thought that the establishment was there to serve and protect. Our perceptions were shattered on that night in March and in the weeks that followed. The director of the ETSU Public Safety Department, Jack Cotrel, gets his facts mixed up from time to time and has a poster in his office stating, "I don't know and I don't care". The President of the university, Dr. Paul Stanton, who offered to "help" us, read a selected witness statement that suggested that our son was possibly on drugs at the time of his death and that he thought it was a suicide. Later we found out that our son was completely sober (no drugs or alcohol) at the time of his death.
The attorney general of Washington County, Joe Crumley said, "If your son committed suicide, let it die." How can I "let it die" when I was just talking to Robbie on the phone a few hours before he died and he was making plans to do some work on his beloved "hotrod"? In fact he told me he had just ordered some parts for it! Does this sound like someone who is thinking about suicide? How can I "let it die" when the roof he supposedly jumped from was only 15 feet high? Robbie had completed parachute school! A person with that kind of training would be very aware that the chances of dying from a 15-foot fall are very slim! How can I "let it die" when there was no sign of a note?
I was in the room with his mother when my son was born and I closed his casket lid. As God is my witness, Robbie left this world in some other way. We may never know the truth of how our son met his maker because of ETSU's swiftness in sweeping all the evidence away as quickly as possible and conveniently calling it a suicide.
If this was your son, and this happened to you would you, "let it die?"
We need your help to find out what happened to Robbie that night. If you have any information please call us at (423) 288-6502, use our on-line tip form, or send e-mail to email@example.com. A reward of $50,000 is offered for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for his possible murder.