Sunday, September 9, 2012

Family seeks answers after UC Davis student is found dead in Sacramento - Sacramento Bee

The day after Linnea Lomax's decomposed body was found along the American River following a 10-week search, her large extended family contemplated why she died, and how her tragic end might help others.

Lomax, 19, had gone from a joyful, outgoing El Dorado High School student with a 4.1 GPA to a stressed, depressed UC Davis freshman contemplating suicide.

The teenager â€" who lost 20 pounds and feared she would fail her last final exam â€" spent 12 days in a psychiatric hospital in June. She was discharged June 25 and the next day left an outpatient clinic halfway through her therapy.

"Nobody saw her until Friday," family spokeswoman Amanda Ernst said Saturday.

Doctors and psychologists who treated Lomax haven't been able to explain her symptoms or fears, Ernst said. "It takes a long time to get an accurate diagnosis. Part of mental illness means you don't see the need for help."

Lomax's father, Craig, told The Bee his family is devastated but he hopes to see positive changes come from his daughter's death.

The family could have a preliminary cause of death by today, said Sacramento County Coroner Gregory Wyatt. "We don't suspect there's any foul play involved, but tests for an overdose of pills may take weeks," Wyatt said.

Because her body was severely decomposed â€" consistent with the length of time she had been missing â€" that could delay the toxicology results, Wyatt said. "If we don't have blood we can use, we may have to go through liver samples."

Wyatt said the county's three forensic pathologists â€" who do 1,000 autopsies a year â€" are still working on cases autopsied in the fall of 2011, so Lomax's official autopsy results may not be released for weeks.

Her body was discovered in a wooded area along the American River bike trail near Glenn Hall Park by a six-person rescue team organized by the KlaasKids Foundation, which coordinated up to 300 volunteers from across the country who searched day and night for Lomax nearly every weekend. They included housewives, ministers, real estate salesmen and an emergency medical technician, said Brad Dennis, national search and rescue coordinator for KlaasKids.

The Lomax case "resonates with every last one of us. This could happen to any of our family members, and all of us want to see the community respond the way this community has," said Dennis, who held briefings at 7 a.m. every morning, sent teams of six people into the field by 8 a.m. for four hours, debriefed them, fed them and sent them out again.

The searchers set up a command center hosted by TMS Monitoring Service, a Sacramento alarm and security company that opened its 3,000-square-foot training facility â€" including a full kitchen, sauna, shower, gym and bedrooms â€" to the effort.

TMS owner Tim Sproul of Granite Bay, a lifelong friend of the Lomaxes, said he didn't know if they could have done anything differently to protect their daughter.

"Once a person turns 18 they're an adult, and right now we don't have the legal ability to extend our guardianship if doctors say the person isn't exactly right," Sproul said. "You've got to keep a close eye on kids because mental illness can happen quickly. You look for any signs you can."

Sproul said he's worked with Marc Klaas, whose 12-year-old daughter Polly was kidnapped from a slumber party at her Petaluma home on Oct. 1, 1993, and was found murdered 65 days later. Her killer, Richard Allen Davis, is on San Quentin's death row.

Klaas founded the nonprofit KlaasKids Foundation to fight crime against children.

"We fingerprint and photograph kids in case something does happen," Sproul said.

Now that Lomax's body has been found, some of the searchers are going home, while others are rallying around the family, Sproul said. "People grieve in different ways."

Dennis, who took vacation time from the military to help search for Polly Klaas in 1993, said the volunteers searching for Lomax included Michael Le, brother of Michelle Le, a nursing student kidnapped from the parking garage of Kaiser Hospital in Hayward in May 2011. Her remains were found in September.

Michael Le now runs BAM â€" Bay Area Missing. Other rescue organizations that joined the search for Lomax included Laura Recovery Center of Friendswood, Texas; Free International based in Las Vegas and Montana; Global Child Rescue of North Carolina; Sacramento's Student Reach; and Raven, from the Bay Area.

"Any time there's a resolution in a case, it's extremely emotional," Dennis said.

Linnea Lomax â€" Nae to her friends and family â€" "has always been a vibrant, outgoing, caring person, very much a perfectionist," Ernst said. "She was a straight-A student in high school. She was just very driven, and always took care of people around her and brought so much joy and sunshine to peoples' lives."

Lomax balanced her study time with soccer and as a guide for her family's river rafting adventure camp, Ernst said. She was contemplating a career in nursing and took advanced first-aid courses, Ernst said.

"She wanted to do something that would help people."

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Call The Bee's Stephen Magagnini, (916) 321-1072.

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