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A day after the apparent suicide of Winthrop House student Anthony Fonseca ’04-’05, friends and family remembered him warmly as his House continued to cope with the death.
Fonseca, who was 21 when he died Sunday morning, will be buried Friday in Oklahoma after his funeral, according to Felix G. Solis Jr., Fonseca’s first cousin.
A ruling on the cause of death is pending the results of an examination by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
A Cambridge Police Department spokesperson said Sunday that Fonseca’s death appears to be a suicide. If the medical examiner rules Fonseca’s death a suicide, it will be the 14th student suicide at Harvard since 1990, according to University spokesperson Joe Wrinn.
It is the 20th sudden student death at the University since 1990.
Fonseca’s death came as a major shock to his family, though there are indications that some elements of the junior’s life had gone awry.
Solis said the family is hesitant to believe Fonseca intentionally took his own life.
“We don’t think it was a suicide,” Solis said. “It must have been accidental. It was just not the nature of his personality.”
Solis, who said he has been in frequent contact with Fonseca’s parents, added that the family had received little information about the circumstances of Fonseca’s death.
“We have struggled to obtain details regarding his death, and sadly, very little was given to the immediate family,” Solis wrote in an e-mail.
Fonseca’s parents and stepfather could not be reached yesterday.
Solis said Fonseca often spent New Year’s with family in Louisiana, and seemed happy over the holidays.
Fonseca was a “military kid,” Solis said, growing up on bases in such disparate places as Germany and Hawaii before settling in Oklahoma, where his father was stationed as a U.S. servicemember.
He was the middle son of Daisy Christian and Roberto Fonseca and had two brothers, ages 18 and 23, who both attend Oklahoma State University, Solis said.
Fonseca’s mother is Honduran and his father is Cuban, Solis added.
William L. Aronson ’04, who lived next door to Fonseca, said he was always thoughtful about friends.
“If I was up late at night, he would get stuff from Brain Break and leave it for me, like he would make a sandwich and leave it on my desk,” Aronson said.
Winthrop Senior Tutor James von der Heydt added that he often saw Fonseca socializing around the House and the dining hall.
“I was impressed with him because he had so many different kinds of friends—he was so plugged in,” von der Heydt said.
Fonseca’s apparent suicide comes about one year after the suicide of Marian H. Smith, class of 2004. Smith, also a Winthrop resident, took her own life in December 2002.
“I don’t think there’s any way of putting things on a scale in terms of comparing what’s hard and less hard,” von der Heydt said, after being asked whether it was more difficult for the House to handle this death a year after that of Smith. “It’s something we’ve been through, and it doesn’t get any easier, but we are taking care of each other.”
Von der Heydt said the House would host a memorial, but that the details and timing are still being planned.
“The main thing to do as a House in the aggregate is to get people together,” von der Heydt said. “That’s a big part of it, is that everyone looks out for each other in times like this.”
Fonseca was widely known as “Deuce,” a nickname Aronson said he thought Fonseca picked up from a team he played on when he was younger.
“We joked he had given himself a nickname,” Aronson said. “It was because he was on a sports team with his two brothers, and he was the middle one.”
Fonseca was passionate about filmmaking, and Thomas D. Odell ’04-’05, who lived in Winthrop J-entryway with Fonseca, remembered having lunch with him in Los Angeles over intersession. Fonseca was at the Harvardwood program, in which Harvard students travel to Hollywood to meet alums in the film industry.
“He had clearly fallen in love with the city,” Odell wrote in an e-mail. “He told me some great stories about the trip and about his impressions of L.A., all with his typical perceptiveness and good humor.”
Odell wrote that Fonseca “couldn’t wait to live there after college.”
Randy D. Xu ’04 said that when he ran into Fonseca and a friend in Los Angeles, they were “raving about the stars they got to meet.”
“Brad Pitt came up, and they got to tour quite a few studios,” Xu said.
Eric S. Price ’05, who was Fonseca’s roommate during the fall semester this year, said he and Fonseca had decided to live together next year before Price left to study abroad for the spring semester.
When Price spoke with Fonseca via Instant Messenger Saturday night, he seemed fine, Price said.
But Xu, who worked with Fonseca at Harvard-Radcliffe Television (HRTV), said Fonseca may have been displaying some more obvious hints of distress before his death.
“There was not a complete absence of warning signs,” Xu said. “There were signs that he might be going through a lot of pain, but it’s hard to know because it’s a very individual experience.”
According to documents obtained by The Crimson, Fonseca was investigated by the Administrative Board in December 2001 after a student at a Boston-area college accused him of sexual assault. Citing conflicting testimony and inconclusive explanations of events, a subcommittee of the Ad Board recommended that the board as a whole vote not to take action. The Ad Board accepted the subcommittee’s recommendation in May 2002.
Fonseca took a leave of absence during the 2002-2003 academic year, and several friends said he never explained the reasons for the leave. He returned to Harvard in fall 2003.
Debra T. Mao ’05, who sat on the HRTV board with Fonseca, said she was surprised Fonseca missed HRTV’s weekly board meeting the Thursday before his death.
Solis said that Fonseca held himself to very high standards. He recalled that when Fonseca was in middle school, he became so upset after receiving a grade of B that he had to see a therapist.
“He was self-disciplined,” Solis said. “He put so much pressure on himself to succeed. His parents didn’t pressure him—he applied that pressure to himself.”
Price said Fonseca was very caring with his friends, but reserved when it came to his personal life.
“He was a very quiet person, private with a lot of his personal life,” Price said. “He was there for a lot of other people when they wanted to talk about stuff, but he kept his own stuff private. He was not very forthcoming with his own stuff—that was the main characteristic that I feel sort of defines him.”
Von der Heydt said he attempted to inform students who had close relationships with Fonseca in Winthrop of his death personally.
“That was an important part of making sure that people were able to feel this event in the context of a relationship and a House setting,” he said. “The way that the news comes matters—I really tried to talk to people in person.”
HRTV staff members met yesterday to work out plans for a video tribute to Fonseca, said Xu, who will produce the piece.
“We were motivated by the thought that our parents, and even our friends, often don’t know everything we’re working on,” Xu said. “We thought it would be very fitting to show off the work he did in the form he loved.”
Xu said he expects the video to be finished in less than a month, and said HRTV will likely have at least part of it completed in time for memorial events.
Von der Heydt said students gathered with the Winthrop House masters and professionals from University Health Services on Sunday to talk about the death, and that counselors will be on hand during dinner for the next several days.
“This hits people who weren’t connected at all [with Anthony],” von der Heydt said. “It hits in a lot of ways, and shakes people up.”
—May Habib contributed to the reporting of this story.
—Staff writer Katharine A. Kaplan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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