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Luke Tang’s Case Manager Did Not Tell Lowell Staff About His Medical History Before Suicide

The wrongful death trial over a 2015 student suicide is taking place at Middlesex County Superior Court, located in Woburn, Mass. On the trial's sixth day, defendant and CAMHS employee Melanie G. Northrop said she did not communicate the student's medical history to Lowell House staff.
The wrongful death trial over a 2015 student suicide is taking place at Middlesex County Superior Court, located in Woburn, Mass. On the trial's sixth day, defendant and CAMHS employee Melanie G. Northrop said she did not communicate the student's medical history to Lowell House staff. By Michelle N. Amponsah
By Jade Lozada and William C. Mao, Crimson Staff Writers

WOBURN, Mass. — Harvard Counseling and Mental Health Services employee Melanie G. Northrop said that when Luke Z. Tang ’18 returned to campus following the summer she did not ask her CAMHS colleagues about Tang or communicate his medical history to Lowell House staff.

Northrop’s comments came during cross-examination by an attorney representing Tang’s estate on the sixth day of her wrongful death trial. Northrop is accused of “negligence and carelessness” in her role as the social work case manager for Tang, an undergraduate student who died by suicide in September 2015.

In late April 2015, Tang was discharged from a week-long stay at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass., following a suicide attempt, and Northrop was assigned to his case. She testified that Tang’s recent attempt made him a “high-risk” patient, but said she did not speak with him after his final appointment with her on May 16.

In her testimony, Northrop said that it was not her responsibility to inform staff at Lowell House — where Tang lived as a sophomore student — about his medical records.

“That’s the job of the first-year Resident Dean,” she said.

Northrop also insisted that she met the standard of care required of a licensed social work case manager, reiterating that Tang did not seek her assistance when he returned to campus from summer vacation, despite Northrop telling Tang she was “available to him.”

“Affirmatively I informed Luke I was available any time in the fall and told him how he could get in touch with me,” Northrop said, adding that she also told Tang how to access CAMHS resources.

The testimony came during an eventful day of proceedings, in which one of Northrop’s attorneys, Victoria C. Goetz, motioned during a morning break for presiding Superior Court Judge John P. Pappas to end the trial on the grounds that the plaintiff’s lawyers had failed to establish that Northrop’s actions caused Tang’s death.

But Michael J. Heineman, one of the attorneys for Tang’s estate, appealed the motion, arguing the plaintiffs had established sufficient grounds to continue the case and eventually allow the jury to make a verdict on the case. Heineman cited testimony from Alex Redcay, a licensed clinical social worker, that asserted Northrop did not meet the standard of care in her treatment of Tang.

Pappas accepted Heineman’s appeal and dismissed the motion to end the trial.

On Wednesday, former Lowell House Resident Dean Caitlin M. Casey ’03 and former Lowell House Faculty Dean Diana L. Eck were also called to testify by the attorneys for Tang’s estate.

In her testimony, Casey said that during a meeting in early September 2015 — just weeks before Tang died — he seemed “incredibly reflective” and like “an almost separate person” from when he had attempted suicide in April 2015.

Casey detailed several efforts by herself and other Lowell House staff to provide support for Tang when he returned from summer break in September 2015 and following his initial suicide attempt in April 2015.

According to Casey, she held a “Sophomore House Meeting” in the spring of 2015, a common procedure in which upperclassmen House staff meet with first-year resident deans to “ensure continuity between the first years’ experience in the Yard and the upperclassmen housing.”

At the meeting, Casey was informed of Tang’s initial suicide attempt and took notes on Tang’s mental health challenges, which were shared during the trial on Wednesday.

Casey said that out of concern for Tang’s safety, she made herself his academic adviser so she could hold regular meetings to check-in on Tang’s well-being.

Casey also testified that she had Tang placed in a room near her residency in Lowell House “to create low-key, low stakes opportunities to connect with Luke.”

According to Casey, Tang appeared upbeat in the fall and especially at a Lowell House boat cruise that took place at the start of the academic year, an event he attended with friends in the days before his death.

Eck said during the trial on Wednesday that Tang raised no cause for concern when she saw him on the cruise.

“If he had, I would remember,” Eck said.

The last witness of the day was Paul Barreira, the former executive director of Harvard University Health Services.

Barreira faced cross-examination by David W. Heinlein, another attorney for Tang’s estate, who asked about the gatekeeper training program that Barreira developed in 2005 to train Harvard College proctors, tutors, and administrators on how to engage students experiencing mental health challenges.

Heinlein focused on the program’s lessons on the “gap” between “a person’s public persona and a person’s private struggles.”

Barreira, however, said the “gap” taught in the course referred to the difference between students’ social media posts and their private lives.

“They might be socially engaged and sharing some of the concerns with close friends that they weren’t sharing on social media,” he said.

Heinlein also asked Barreira about whether a prior suicide attempt is a risk factor for further self-harm. Barreira said that roughly 90 percent of people who attempt suicide do not make another attempt, adding that studies are unclear about whether treatment reduces the likelihood a person will try again.

Barreira’s testimony contradicted testimony by Alex Redcay, a licensed clinical social worker who said last Thursday that people with previous suicide attempts were “at the highest risk” of attempting again and that an effective treatment plan, in her opinion, could have prevented Tang’s death.

At the end of Wednesday’s proceedings, Pappas announced that Thursday would likely be the trial’s final day of testimony before the court reconvenes on Monday to hear closing arguments in the case.

If you or someone you know needs help at Harvard, contact Counseling and Mental Health Services at (617) 495-2042 or the Harvard University Police Department at (617) 495-1212. Several peer counseling groups offer confidential peer conversations; learn more here.

You can contact a University Chaplain to speak one-on-one at or here.

You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or text the Crisis Text Line at 741741.

—Staff writer Jade Lozada can be reached at

—Staff writer William C. Mao can be reached at Follow him on X @williamcmao.

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