Important Update Regarding Missing Student

Posted on September 25th, 2019 by

Dear Gustavus parents and guardians,

The message below was recently sent to all members of the Gustavus community and I wanted to be sure to share it with you as well. We are sad to share news of the death of student Alex Sarlis. As I shared in the message, the death of a young person is particularly difficult. In addition to the resources shared in the email, I also want to highlight several thoughts for you as parents and guardians.

Make time to check in with your student and ask how they are feeling about the recently shared information. Encourage them to talk with you about their reactions. Discussions with your student should be open and frank without dramatizing the death or dwelling on it unnecessarily.

Students will likely react at all points on a continuum from crying or agitation to numbness and lack of any expression while also understanding that some students will not feel personally connected to the loss of a student they did not know. Expect a wide variety of responses. Acknowledge and model an appropriate range of emotional expression.

Explain that the pain of grief may cause a variety of behaviors in their peers and that acting out, being quiet or laughing can all indicate different ways for a student to be experiencing pain in their own way. Understanding and acceptance of the fact that everyone grieves or reacts to pain or fear differently should be emphasized.

Encourage students to be supportive of one another. Provide a message of hope. Keep in mind that young people often have an inflated view of the power they have over the lives of others.

Please do not hesitate to reach out to the staff in the Dean of Students Office if you have questions or concerns. We want to join you in supporting your Gusties.


JoNes R. VanHecke

Vice President for Student Life & Dean of Students

Community-l Message:

TO: The Gustavus Community
FROM: JoNes VanHecke, Vice President for Student Life
SUBJECT: Death of student Alex Sarlis
DATE: September 25, 2019

It is with a heavy heart that I am writing to inform you that we were notified today by the Saint Peter Police of the death of Gustavus student Alex Sarlis that appears to be related to a drug overdose. While Alex had been a member of our community for only a brief time, we know that you will want to support his family and friends in grieving this loss. Information that authorities have been able to share with us indicates that there is no present or on-going threat to Gustavus community members. Out of respect to the family, additional detailed information will not be shared with the Gustavus community by the College.

The death of a peer/young person is particularly difficult and I urge you to remember that none of you are alone and that many are here to listen, help and care. Gusties, if you or one of your friends is struggling with this or another recent loss, remember to: 

o   Demonstrate love and respect by being attentive.

o   Encourage talking about feelings and about the deceased friend.

o   Listen, no matter what!

o   Understand that your presence is important, even if talking may be limited.

o   Share your experience with loss, but focus on the person you are supporting.

o   Help to identify others to talk to (i.e., Counseling Center, Residential Life, Dean of Student Life, Chaplains’ Office).

In response to this sad time, the College will make available the resources of the Counseling Center, the Dean of Students Office and Chaplains’ Office. Specifically, if you need assistance during business hours, please stop by the Dean of Students Office on the main floor of the Campus Center and office staff will connect you with resources. 

Specifically for students, the Counseling Center will have additional appointment times reserved this week for students needing assistance.  Students are encouraged to share with front desk staff that they are coming in for this reason so that they can be directed to these reserved times. Students could also use “Let’s Talk” Thursday or Friday 1:30-2:30 in the A/V Preview Room in the basement of the Library for drop-in consultation services. No appointment necessary. “Let’s Talk” is available daily throughout the academic year. The counseling center also has resources (books, informational sheets) available to anyone on campus looking for ways to address grief and loss. 

College Chaplains Siri Erickson and Maggie Falenschek will be available in the Chaplains’ Office in Old Main to counsel community members by appointment. Drop-ins are welcome or you can email the chaplains directly at to make an appointment. In addition, Christ Chapel and the Bonnier Multifaith Center are open for anyone who needs a quiet place for reflection or prayer. There will be a gathering time for all who would like to attend on Friday, Sept. 27 at 3 p.m. in the Bonnier Multifaith Center to honor Alex’s life and offer prayers.

If you need immediate support, please call the 24-hour Campus Safety line at 507-933-8888 and ask to speak to the on-call Dean of Students.

If you need any assistance, please do not hesitate to contact me or another member of the Dean of Students Office.




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