Duluth didn’t watch out for student found frozen on porchChuck Frederick column: Apparently not everyone had a mom like mine who, after taking her children’s friends home, insisted on sitting outside their houses until she was positive — absolutely positive — they had made it inside safely. Whether your own mother was as careful, you may have been left wondering this week: Just what the hell were the men thinking who dropped off UMD student Alyssa Jo Lommel early Saturday?
By: Chuck Frederick, Duluth News Tribune
Apparently not everyone had a mom like mine who, after taking her children’s friends home, insisted on sitting outside their houses until she was positive — absolutely positive — they had made it inside safely. Imagine my embarrassment when it was never enough for her to see them pushing their way through their own front doors. My mom refused to drive away until they flashed the front porch light on and off a few times. The light switch was on the inside of the house, so she knew they had to be inside. Only then would it be OK for her to leave.
Whether your own mother was as eye-rollingly careful, you may have been left wondering this week: Just what the hell were the men thinking who dropped off University of Minnesota Duluth student Alyssa Jo Lommel early Saturday? It was midnight. Houses were dark. She had been drinking — for six hours, friends told police, including a game with tequila shots: “Yum Yum 10th shot of tequila,” she tweeted during an evening of house parties. She was all alone. And nighttime lows were plummeting toward dangerously frigid 15-below readings.
But “she could talk,” the driver of the truck that dropped her off told police. “She wasn’t falling-down drunk.” So apparently it was perfectly OK just to pull up to the house, hit the button that unlocks the truck’s doors and then drive away as soon as her boots hit the roadside snowbank. Right? Because that’s precisely what happened, according to police and their interviews with Lommel’s “friends” and others.
But Lommel wasn’t OK. Far from it. Though she left a party with keys, she never made it inside her house. A roommate watching television said she didn’t hear any knocking or fumbling at the back door, though Lommel’s cellphone was found there the next day. Tracks Lommel left in the snow suggested she searched desperately for a way to escape the freezing cold. She approached a garage, but it was unheated. She circled a parked car, but it was locked. And she walked down a dead-end street before returning. Finally, she climbed over a railing to a neighbor’s house. UMD basketball players live there, but they were out of town for a game.
On the players’ front steps is where Lommel was found by passersby — nine and a half hours later. No one spotted her sooner? No one? A young woman lying on the steps outside in the subzero cold wearing only lightweight boots, jeans and a sweatshirt? Near the busy intersection of Woodland Avenue and College Street? I shudder to think others actually did see her and just continued on their way. What the hell were they thinking?
Not surprisingly, Lommel was unresponsive when she was found. Her skin was pale. And her hands were swollen to three times their normal size. Still hospitalized, she was stable but in critical condition yesterday.
Through the police, Lommel’s family, of St. Cloud, Minn., expressed thanks for support and asked for privacy during what has to be an unfathomably difficult time.
I feel for her family. I really do. Like them, I took a daughter to college this year, to a campus hours from home. Also like them, I’m sure, I prayed she’d make the right choices in her new surroundings, connect with good friends, steer clear of trouble and ace all her classes. And if that didn’t happen, if something went wrong, I prayed her new community would be there to pick her up, to set her straight, and to protect and support her.
By all indications, it appears Alyssa Jo Lommel made some bad decisions early Saturday and got herself into a terrible situation. She shoulders responsibility for what happened. But I can’t help but feel we let her down, too, that we fell short of her family’s reasonable expectations. As a community, Duluth didn’t do what my mom always did, even when it seemed silly or unnecessary. We didn’t watch out for one entrusted to us until we were positive — absolutely positive — she was home and safe.
Chuck Frederick is the News Tribune’s editorial page editor.