A former high school basketball star from Rochester hanged himself Friday at a state addiction-treatment center, the Star Tribune has learned, becoming the fourth suicide at a state treatment facility since early 2015.
Ater Manyang, a 2012 graduate of Rochester Century High School, was found dead late Friday afternoon at the Community Addiction Recovery Enterprise (CARE) facility in St. Peter, according to the Ramsey County medical examiner’s office.
The state Department of Human Services, which oversees the St. Peter facility, confirmed a death by apparent suicide, but declined on privacy grounds to identify the patient. The Star Tribune independently confirmed Manyang’s identity.
“This is heartbreaking news, and we extend our sympathy to the patient’s family,” Deputy Human Services Commissioner Nancy Johnston said in a written statement. “As with any serious incident, we are fully investigating the circumstances and reviewing all relevant policies and procedures.”
Lori Hedican, chief investigator for the medical examiner’s office, said Manyang, 24, was found between 4 and 5 p.m. Friday.
Suicide deaths are rare at state mental-health facilities, but Manyang’s death follows three last year, which prompted state regulators to order an intense investigation into care and staffing breakdowns.
In March 2015, Logan Brodal, 28, hanged himself with a bedsheet at the CARE facility in St. Peter, a death that union officials attributed to short staffing. The treatment center was so understaffed at the time that staff had to enlist the help of other patients to hold up his body while they loosened the bedsheet around his neck, workers said. One patient even helped in the effort to resuscitate him.
Four months later, a patient at a state mental hospital in Rochester also killed herself by hanging, prompting the Department of Human Services to order a “systematic evaluation” to determine why suicides had increased in state facilities.
All mental health and substance abuse treatment staff who work for the state completed suicide prevention and response training last year, a Human Services spokeswoman said.
News of Manyang’s death jolted Minnesota’s sports community and prompted his younger brother to fly home from Oklahoma, where he plays basketball for the Sooners. Akolda Manyang, a reserve center on the NCAA tournament team, played high school basketball at Century and then Duluth East. He learned Saturday morning of Ater’s death and did not practice with the team that day.
“AK [as he is known] flew home Sunday morning,” Sooners spokesman Matt Heckart said Monday. “No decision has been made [about] when he will rejoin” the team.
Dr. Kevin Reid of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, who was once a mentor to Ater Manyang, said the young man had a difficult adolescence. Manyang, a refugee from war-torn Sudan, “sort of dipped in and out” of the lives of the doctor’s family, Reid said.
“Then I lost touch with him,” he added. “He struggled in a lot of ways. I and others tried to help him, but there is only so much that you can do.”
Upon learning of Manyang’s suicide, Reid said he’s left “asking myself over and over what I could have done.”
Manyang was a four-year letterman at Century High School and graduated as the school’s all-time leader in scoring and rebounding.
His senior season came to a halt in February 2012, when he was dismissed from the team for what the school’s athletic director described only as a violation of state High School League rules.
Court records show that Manyang was cited for underage drinking just before he was kicked off the team.
Four years ago to the day of his death, Manyang was cited for drunken driving and convicted of a misdemeanor, according to court records.
Manyang was admitted to the CARE facility on Thursday morning, the day before his death.
Staff at the center said he had spent about 90 days in a hospital in Rochester after what appeared to be a suicide attempt in December in which he consumed an “overabundance of alcohol,” according to a report from the St. Peter Police Department.
According to the police report, a staff member was conducting routine rounds and knocked on Manyang’s door about 4:10 p.m. on Friday.
After getting no response, she looked inside his room and noticed that Manyang appeared to be “standing up sleeping.”
As she approached, she saw that a belt was tied around his neck and immediately called for help.
“They did everything in their power to save him,” said St. Peter Police Chief Matt Peters.
A detective found a notebook in Manyang’s room which appeared to be a journal. There was an entry that was not dated but was titled, “Letter To My brothers.” The entry discussed his feelings but did not mention suicide.
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