The University of Chicago student who was shot by a campus police officer Tuesday night had visited the university’s student counseling office in recent weeks and was referred to an outside agency for help, one of his roommates said.
Charles Thomas, 21, was shot in the shoulder near the university’s Hyde Park campus after he charged at the officer with a long metal object in his hand. Thomas’ mother has said she believes her son was experiencing a psychiatric episode at the time.
One of Thomas’ roommates, Daniel Lastres, said Thomas had gone to the university’s student counseling services in the final weeks of the school’s winter quarter, which ended on March 27. His visit, Lastres said, was driven by academic pressures.
“Anyone, student or faculty, on this campus will tell you about the intense amount of emotional stress put on individuals to succeed,” Lastres said. “Charles was no stranger to this feeling. And with pressures mounting at the end of his undergraduate career, he did what he could to get himself help by visiting student counseling services at the end of winter quarter.”
Lastres’ statement came at the second rally in as many days to support Thomas, whose shooting has prompted outpourings of support for him on social media and calls to de-arm the U. of C. police department. Friends posted pictures of themselves hanging out and traveling with Thomas, including on an apparently recent trip to Morocco.
After seeking counseling, Lastres said that Thomas was referred to another agency off campus, but he didn’t know if Thomas sought any further treatment. Lastres also said that “there is a history of bipolar depression that runs in Charles’ family” — something Thomas’ mother had also said on Thursday.
Citing privacy laws, a spokesman for the University of Chicago declined to comment on whether or not Thomas sought help from the university.
When a student first visits the counseling center, the undergo an initial intake appointment where their needs are assessed. The center may schedule more appointments with the student or refer them to outside agencies if the student’s needs can’t be met.
The university’s Student Life Fee “allows the patient to receive diagnostic assessment and short-term treatment and\or referral,” according to the center’s website.
Lastres, who has known Thomas for four years and lived with him for two, said Thomas, a fourth-year student originally from Riverside, Calif., is “a really free spirit.”
“He’s a great, loving guy with a laugh that could light up a whole room,” he said.
For the last few years, Thomas has worked as a daytime security guard at the The University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute museum.
His coworker, Olivia De Keyser, said Thomas “really liked it because he’s such a history nerd.”
“He had a story every week,” said De Keyser, also a fourth-year student at the university. “Something always was happening, always some adventure or weird escapade. Some goofy thing was happening. Every shift would just go by.”
De Keyser said that she and other students who know Thomas are wondering if there were signs in his demeanor they should have noticed before Tuesday.
“I think that’s something that a lot of us here have been beating ourselves up about,” she said. “Because we care about him a lot and we know that if he needed to talk to us more that we’d be there for him.”