Mother tells how she found Linnea Lomax hanging by river; parents thank searchers

09/12/2012 12:00 AM

12/19/2012 2:41 PM

Thrashing through the thick brush on the banks of the American River on Friday morning, Marianne Lomax got on her hands and knees, crawled through the bramble and came to what she called a "pretty place" alongside the water.

There, she found her 19-year-old daughter Linnea, hanging from a tree.

"I looked for two seconds and I knew it was her," recalled Marianne Lomax, wrapped in a prayer shawl and standing alongside her husband, Craig. "I believe God brought me to her, and there's closure because of that."

The Lomaxes relayed Friday's heartbreaking discovery during a news conference Tuesday in which they thanked the hundreds of volunteers – throngs of them strangers – who helped search for their daughter, missing since June 26.

Late Friday, authorities confirmed that the remains found that morning were those of the UC Davis freshman from Placerville.

Authorities already had indicated Linnea's death did not appear suspicious, but her cause of death was not known until her family announced it Tuesday.

Her parents attributed the suicide to Linnea's deteriorating mental health.

"Her delusional fears overcame her," said Craig Lomax, adding later: "It was an illness that overcame her ability to think."

Her parents have said Linnea was a bright, happy young woman until her third quarter in college, when she began losing weight and obsessing over small things. While studying for finals, they said, she had a breakdown and appeared to be contemplating suicide.

She spent more than a week in a mental health facility before she was released. During a lunch break on her first day of outpatient, voluntary therapy, Linnea walked away and wasn't heard from again.

Her parents said it's unclear when she committed suicide in the 10 weeks she was missing, but said it's possible she did so the afternoon she left the Howe Avenue clinic.

Even before Linnea was found, the Lomaxes talked about trying to change a system they think did not offer a safety net for their daughter.

Craig Lomax said he believes his daughter's judgment was clouded when she insisted she didn't need help – a common frustration expressed by loved ones of mentally ill people – but that because of her age, she was able to walk away from therapy.

They reiterated their goals Tuesday.

"We feel the loss was unnecessary and avoidable," Craig Lomax said. "No one should have to suffer what Linnea did, or what we are suffering."

About two dozen relatives and friends joined the Lomaxes and their younger children, Joy and Collin, at the family's Placerville church for Tuesday's announcement.

Craig and Marianne Lomax thanked them and the Sacramento community for their support.

"From the homeless to the elite, you made our daughter your daughter," Craig Lomax said. "You made our need inspire your prayers."

Jeremy Meehan, a Carmichael youth minister who ran the search effort's website, said Linnea's story is a "wake-up" call for the community.

"No one is immune from tragedy, and no child is protected from mental illness," he said.

Her death, though devastating, also highlighted "how powerful and how beautiful community is," Meehan added.

Family friend Aimee Rohrer said the search efforts were "life-changing" for her and her family members, who were exposed to places and people they had never known before.

Her son-in-law, for example, barbecued hotdogs for homeless people while trying to get the word out about Linnea in that population, she said. Even after Linnea's body was found Friday, Rohrer's son-in-law went out again Saturday, this time simply to feed those in need.

"I was overwhelmed by how many people there are with good hearts who want to help," she said of the volunteers. "I felt like there was a huge community of people helping each other."

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