Student’s Death Determined as Suicide
The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s-Coroners Department determined that Jacob Okoli, a third-year UC Irvine transfer student majoring in English died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound on Aug. 28. Okoli’s body and a small-hand caliber gun were found March 9 in the trunk of his car on the 10030 block of Juniper Avenue in Fontana.
According to Sgt. Jeff Decker, the spokesman for the Fontana Police Department, the case was unique because of the location of the body, which making it difficult to determine whether the death was a homicide, suicide or accident. Thus, a gun residue test was conducted by the Fontana Police Department to determine who pulled the trigger.
“There was gunshot residue consistent to show that he was the one who fired the shot,” Decker said.
Decker went on to state that as with any undetermined death, Okoli’s case was approached as a potential homicide. Yet, according to Tony Campisi, the San Bernardino County Supervising Deputy Coroner, information compiled by a review committee ruled out homicide in favor of suicide.
“It was the case in its totality … that caused us to determine the manner of death to be suicide,” Campisi said.
According to Campisi the review committee brought together deputy coroner investigators, toxicologists and police detectives, who unanimously declared the death to be a suicide. Outside of the gun residue test, an autopsy that included a toxicology test was used in the investigation. The autopsy revealed that Okoli’s body had not suffered any trauma prior to the fatal gunshot and that no drugs were found in Okoli’s system at the time of death.
“One of the many, many things we look for … is trauma of course to the body and other than the gunshot wound, the autopsy revealed that there was no other trauma,” Campisi said.
The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s-Coroners Department could not determine an exact date of death for Okoli. Yet, according to Campisi, the body’s state of decomposition upon discovery revealed that he had more than likely been dead for approximately two weeks. Additionally, representatives from both the Fontana Police Department and the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s-Coroners Department were unable to state how Okoli obtained the gun.
Regardless of Okoli’s possession of the weapon, it is possible that he would have committed suicide in a different manner if he had not obtained the firearm. George Tita, an assistant professor of criminology, law and society at UCI, who is listed as an expert on gun violence by the university, stated that with suicides such as Okoli’s, it is unknown how important a role the possession of a gun plays in committing suicide.
“Some argue that [having a gun] is not pivotal to the decision itself. Others argue that we don’t know about those … people that have committed suicide with a gun. … We truly can never know whether or not if the gun wasn’t there they would have chosen some other method,” Tita said.
According to UCI’s Chief of Police Paul Henisey, campus police look out for illegal weapons such as concealed firearms and illegally purchased guns during patrols and routine car stops, among other activities. However, Henisey stated that the violent crime rate at UCI is quite low and as a result, such weapons are not an overwhelming concern.
“While I would say we don’t have a huge volume of illegal weapons that we find on campus, we do on occasion find them and that obviously because of the potential for injury to others, that is of concern to us,” Henisey said.
According to Campisi, though he had originally estimated that the review committee would come to a decision at the beginning of September, the availability of the involved departments allowed the group to gather earlier.
“We knew that we would have all the results back and everything done and shooting for the beginning of September was a realistic date as to when to let … the public know … [but] we were able to take care of it this week, so that’s what we did,” Campisi said.
Prior to his death, Okoli had been evicted from campus housing for failing to enroll in the 12-unit minimum required to be a full-time student at UCI. Okoli had not completed any coursework at UCI after transferring to the school.