June 23, 2024

Following mental health crisis, student expelled for possession of unloaded gun

Members of the Capital community are rallying behind a student who has been expelled following a mental health crisis involving the possession of an unloaded gun on campus.

Before being expelled, 22-year-old Jae Merrick was an education major at the university. 

On Nov. 26, 2022, during Thanksgiving break, he was having suicidal thoughts. 

“I was planning to end my life,” Merrick said. “It wasn’t like impulsive, it was something that I had been kind of planning out for a little bit.”

Merrick purchased a Ruger SR 9mm pistol then drove around Columbus, stopping at a Home Depot parking lot in Canal Winchester. Merrick took a suicide note he had written, as well as the gun, and climbed into the back seat of his car, intending to commit suicide. 

After having second thoughts, Merrick decided to call a friend, who ended up driving to the Home Depot parking lot. 

“[My friend] ended up just talking me down,” Merrick said. “And since he never dealt with a gun before, neither of us felt good about him taking the gun away. So, I just unloaded it and gave him the ammunition.” 

Merrick and his friend then began discussing a plan for the night. Their plan included Merrick returning to his on-campus Sheridan Ave apartment and getting rid of the unloaded gun the next morning, taking it to a relative’s home who owned a gun safe. 

The pair also discussed Merrick going to the hospital the next morning to receive help for his mental health struggles. The friend then drove him back to campus, taking the friend’s car and leaving Merrick’s car behind. 

Merrick became concerned about leaving his car alone in the Home Depot parking lot, so they ended up driving back so Merrick could retrieve it. 

Around 11 p.m., Merrick said he took the unloaded gun and buried it under items he had in his trunk. He drove back to his residence on campus, parked and locked his car, then went to bed. 

No one else was in Merrick’s apartment building that night, due to many students being gone for Thanksgiving break. The friend then reported him to the university.

In the early hours of Nov. 27, 2022, Capital University Public Safety Officers and Bexley Police Officers arrived at Merrick’s apartment building.

They entered the building and knocked on Merrick’s door after attempting to call Merrick a few times with no response, according to a police report. Merrick opened the door and was given instructions by police to step back and keep his hands on his head, to which he complied.

Merrick told the police the gun was in his car and gave them permission to retrieve it. 

In the report completed by the Capital University Police Department, the search of Merrick’s car led to the discovery of a suicide note in the back seat, as well as the gun and an empty magazine in the trunk. 

According to the Bexley Police Department report, a suicide note was found in the passenger area, along with the unloaded gun in the trunk. There was no mention of ammunition noted in either report.

After confiscating the unloaded gun, officers at the scene drove Merrick to a local hospital upon his request. While Merrick was in the hospital, the university began investigating the incident. 

“Then I got out of the hospital and I didn’t have anywhere to go because they said during the investigation that my housing was suspended,” Merrick said. “And because of my family dynamic, I’ve been on my own for a long time…I didn’t have anywhere to go, so that friend that I called that night told me I could stay with him for the time being.”

The university then informed Merrick he was being expelled. He attempted to appeal the decision, but his appeal was rejected. 

“I was really surprised,” Merrick said. “I didn’t think that it would happen that way. I’m disappointed, a lot of other feelings.”

Deanna Wagner, dean of engagement and success, declined to comment further on the situation on behalf of the university, stating that, “When making conduct decisions, the university follows its published procedures, considers all the information available and provides a process for appeal. The university does not comment on specific conduct cases…”

According to the university’s policy, “…no person is allowed to possess, display, or use firearms, weapons, ammunition, or fireworks on campus at any time. This policy applies to all university faculty, staff, students, and visitors.”

University policy does not specify a one-size-fits-all punishment for possession of a firearm, but dismissal is a possible sanction for breaking any university policy. 

Despite Merrick’s expulsion, numerous students are arguing that context matters. Students have rallied behind Merrick, creating a petition on change.org titled “Tell Capital University to Reinstate Jae Merrick.” 

Part of the petition reads: “There’s a difference between someone bringing a gun to school to hurt someone and someone who changed their mind about suicide and had nowhere to put something till the next day.”

The petition has over 400 signatures, and many individuals have left comments voicing their support for Merrick and their disapproval of the university’s decision. 

One signatory cited the following reason for supporting the petition: “I know Jae personally and know that he is not a threat to the student body. Jae is the first person to try to help someone when [they’re] in need… People need help sometimes. Capital needs to do right by him and reinstate him as a student instead of taking everything away from him.”

Similarly, another supporter said, “The administration has punished Jae for reaching out for help! What message does this send to people struggling with mental health?” 

Merrick had a similar thought. 

“I think that it’s going to discourage people from reaching out, if I’m being honest,” Merrick said. “Mental health stigma, especially with men, [makes] it hard to reach out in the first place. And I think that them taking the punitive approach here is only going to make people not want to reach out more.”

Merrick hopes to be reinstated and he has the support of numerous students behind him, who are hoping to see more empathy from the university’s conduct process and a solution that does not involve pushing away a student in need of support.

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