I saw it on Twitter — “UNH Lecturer commits suicide after killing man, police say”. The link led me to WMUR.com where I was stunned to see a familiar name and face appear on the screen. The professor, Eric Paul Engel, taught my Monday-Wednesday CMN 457 lecture. My eyes were held captive on my laptop screen as I felt the blood drain from my face and heard my heart racing in my chest.
A million thoughts and questions raced through my mind. Did this really just happen? But I just had class Wednesday! What do I do now? He was always a little different but I never expected this…! Should I still do the reading due Monday? What about the exam he was preparing the class for? He was such a smart, passionate professor… Why did he do this?
Engel had a Ph.D in Communications and in class, we were recently taught how language is the fundamental element of life. Engel would say through language, individuals create patterns that help in everyday situations. Only faced with a new situation do individuals develop a new pattern that will become the standard for handling similar situations in the future. Myself, likely my peers as well, have never had a professor allegedly commit murder-suicide so yesterday, we were forced to put into practice what we had just learned within the last week.
Engel was one of those professors who talked, to some degree, about his personal life in class. He appreciated the arts, was an animal lover, and referred to himself as a liberal. He told us how he dreamed of sailing around the world and when he taught, you could tell he was passionate about communication. I had no idea how truly disturbed he must have been to not only take his own life, but to allegedly take a family friend’s life as well. I find it tragically ironic how a communications professor had such severe problems communicating that he allegedly murdered a family acquaintance and then took his own life.
The details surrounding the events that happened aren’t very clear so myself, as well as the entire UNH community may never truly know what possessed a man with seemingly good intentions to allegedly do something so violent and terrible. We may never know why he did it but we can join together as the UNH family that we are and rise above this incident. The actions of one man do not define us as a community or as the University of New Hampshire.
What we can all learn from this is to go against what Engel taught and not wait until a new situation arises to develop new language patterns. Instead, let’s figure out what to do before another incident occurs. We can all take the UNH Counseling Center’s online training simulation to help identify at-risk individuals. If we know what to look for, we can all look out for each other and hopefully prevent history from repeating itself.