Rev. Katherine Brearley, the mother of Wharton junior Owen Thomas, confirmed that “Owen hanged himself.”
Thomas’ body was found at his off-campus residence at 39th Street and Baltimore Avenue around 2 p.m. Monday.
He was recently elected co-captain of the football team.
Brearley said Thomas was not depressed, and this was simply a situation that spiraled out of control. “He was a very self-directed person, and usually his self-direction led him to excel in things, but that intensity and self-direction has a dark side,” she said. “He put huge expectations on himself and just impossibly couldn't live up to them … and wouldn't let other people give him an appropriate perspective.”
“We tried,” she continued. “His friends tried, Coach Shaffer tried. I don't think it was occurring to anyone that we weren't getting through."
She said Thomas likely acted impulsively, “out of anger with himself.”
“He still had his cell phone and his wallet in his pocket. If you intend to kill yourself, you put your things in order and write a note. There'd be some sign that you've been thinking of what you were going to do, and here there wasn’t,” Brearley said.
"I think the knowledge that he perhaps wasn't going to excel at some of the courses he was taking... he felt a huge responsibility being captain of the team. But talking to his friends, the depth of failure that he saw was in his mind rather than the reality of his life” she added.
Brearley stressed that students should seek comfort in this difficult time. “Reaching out when you're feeling dark and desperate is so important. If other people can learn from Owen, it doesn't need to happen this way,” she said.
She thanked the University administrators “for being so good to us.”
Additionally, Brearley said, Thomas’ organs could not be donated because of “loss of oxygen,” but the family contacted the Gift of Life organization to harvest skin and arteries, among other soft tissue.
The funeral will be held Monday, May 3 at 10:30 a.m. at the Union United Church of Christ in Neffs, Pa. where his father is the senior pastor.
Thomas attended Parkland High School in Allentown, Pa. He was a three-year letter winner and a two-year captain in high school, according to the Penn Athletics website. He was also a member of the National Honor Society and a nominee for the High School Heisman Memorial Trophy, a prestigious award in American high school athletics.
He is survived by his parents and three brothers.
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