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Attorneys Present Closing Arguments in Wrongful Death Trial Against CAMHS Employee

John P. Pappas (center) presides over trial. Attorneys for Harvard Counseling and Mental Health Services employee Melanie G. Northrop said Luke Z. Tang '18 chose not to pursue treatment.
John P. Pappas (center) presides over trial. Attorneys for Harvard Counseling and Mental Health Services employee Melanie G. Northrop said Luke Z. Tang '18 chose not to pursue treatment. By Jack R. Trapanick
By Michelle N. Amponsah and Joyce E. Kim, Crimson Staff Writers

WOBURN, Mass. — Attorneys for Harvard Counseling and Mental Health Services employee Melanie G. Northrop said Luke Z. Tang ’18, an undergraduate who died by suicide on Harvard’s campus in 2015, chose not to pursue treatment prior to his death during closing arguments on the final day of the wrongful death trial on Monday.

However, attorneys representing Tang’s parents maintained that Northrop was negligent in her care for Tang and urged the jury to award a total of $22 million in damages to Tang’s parents.

William J. Dailey III, one of Northrop’s attorneys, said that each time Northrop — Tang’s CAMHS case manager — met with Tang following an initial suicide attempt in April 2015, he denied he was suicidal and at-risk.

“Luke Tang made a choice not to get treatment,” Dailey said. “You can’t make a person go and engage in treatment. The only person who could help Luke was Luke.”

Dailey said that Northrop, who was tasked with coordinating Tang’s mental health treatment and resources after his first attempt, upheld her duties as a social worker. Northrop, he said, had Tang self-administer the BHM-20, a behavioral health measure survey, on two occasions and repeatedly encouraged him to seek professional help.

Dailey also argued that when Tang returned to Harvard from a summer spent in China — during which he was not seeing a therapist — there were “no symptoms, no warning flags, that he was going to hurt himself.”

He also told the jury that suicides occur every year “despite all of the effort” and “all of the education” to prevent it.

Michael J. Heineman, an attorney representing Tang’s parents, described Tang as a typical “type 2 kid” — a student known to be at-risk of suicide but who displays no warning signs — in his closing arguments and alleged that Northrop had known Tang was a type 2 student but failed to adequately address it.

“This case was never about warning flags or concerns,” he said. “This case was about a type 2 kid being identified, as hard as it can be, and Melanie Northrop not doing her job.”

Heineman argued that Northrop “could not be bothered” to be part of Tang’s care team and reiterated that Northrop failed to meet the standard of care required of the average licensed social work case manager in her care for Tang.

“There was no teamwork, no coordination, no continuity of care, no monitoring by Melanie Northrop, his case manager. When his care was interrupted over summer break, nothing was done with Mrs. Northrop to make sure it resumed,” he said.

Northrop testified last Tuesday that she followed “standard procedure” in providing care for Tang by encouraging him to seek various treatment options, but admitted that she did not follow up with Tang about whether or not he would continue to see a therapist in their final meeting before he left for China.

On Monday, Heineman suggested the jury allow the Tangs to recover $2 million in damages for Tang’s conscious pain and suffering and $10 million for each parent for the loss of their son.

The trial began on April 9. Closing arguments came after seven days of witness testimonies, including testimony from Northrop, Tang’s parents, and testimonies from medical professionals at McLean Hospital and Harvard University Health Services who had interacted with Tang.

The court recessed as the jury began their deliberations at around noon on Monday. The jury did not reach a verdict and will continue deliberating on Tuesday.

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 988 or text the Crisis Text Line at 741741.

—Staff writer Michelle N. Amponsah can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @mnamponsah.

—Staff writer Joyce E. Kim can be reached at Follow her on X at @joycekim324.

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