A year after the death of Elizabeth "Lizzy" Seeberg, her family is starting to heal, helped in large part by their Catholic faith.
"We found at our core our faith, our family and our church standing with us, standing strong," said Tom Seeberg, the father of Lizzy, 19, a Saint Mary’s College student who committed suicide last September nine days after reporting she was sexually assaulted by a Notre Dame football player.
Seeberg is hopeful that changes Notre Dame made in its sex assault investigation procedures over the summer will help other women who report assaults on campus.
"It’s a wake-up call to colleges across the country to really take these cases seriously, especially the investigation process," he said in a telephone interview. "To the extent that the tragedy of Lizzy has helped another woman, that is wonderful."
One issue that remains, Seeberg said, is whether the public would be better served if an outside police agency investigated serious and violent crimes reported on campus. "Is it appropriate that Notre Dame have its own police agency investigating crime on campus? Would we want that conflict of interest anywhere else in society?" he said.
Tom and Mary Seeberg, Lizzy’s parents, live in Northbrook, Ill. They have two other children.
"We don’t hate Notre Dame," Seeberg said. He doesn’t believe, however, the university lived up to its high Catholic ideals in its handling of Lizzy’s case.
Four generations of the family have attended Notre Dame or Saint Mary’s, and a nephew currently is a sophomore at the university.
Although the U.S. Department of Education’s recent investigation of Notre Dame wasn’t prompted by a complaint by the family or anyone else, federal investigators spent many hours reviewing the documents concerning Lizzy’s case, her father said.
College administrators and prosecutors are too quick to conclude that factual details of a sexual assault claim never can be determined, Seeberg said.
"A lot of these cases end up in a fog of ‘he said-she said,’ whereas with a thorough investigation, you might clear much of that fog up," he said.
He praises the efforts of Saint Mary’s administrators to support the family in the long weeks and months after the death of Lizzy, who suffered from depression and anxiety. The college’s Belles Against Violence Office was helpful and supportive to his daughter from the moment she contacted the office, he said.
Seeberg said he never had any expectation, after Lizzy’s suicide, that St. Joseph County Prosecutor Michael Dvorak would file criminal charges against the male student. The prosecutor’s office studied the investigation report and declined to file charges.
The Seeberg family asked Notre Dame to proceed with a campus disciplinary hearing against the accused student based on Lizzy’s written statement and other evidence gathered during the investigation. A hearing was the family’s best hope of learning the truth of the incident and preserving Lizzy’s rights, even after her death, Seeberg said.
Notre Dame declined. Under campus policies, only university administrators or an alleged victim — not a parent — may seek campus disciplinary action, administrators said.
The family doesn’t know if the accused student ever faced a hearing or any punishment.
"The issue for us is: What efforts were expended to get at the truth?" Seeberg said.
Seeberg said he and his wife have no regrets about going public regarding their daughter’s story and death, but they now are trying to move on with their lives in a private manner.
He’s been back at Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s a few times since his daughter’s death, most recently last spring during Sexual Assault Awareness Week on the two campuses.
Whenever he’s in town, Seeberg stops at the Notre Dame Grotto to pray. "It was a place Lizzy liked to visit," he said.
Staff writer Margaret Fosmoe: