Two Years After Death

Two Years After Death

UA student leaves legacy for family, friends

Special to The Free Weekly

It wasn’t expected. There weren’t any goodbyes. She was making plans with her sorority sisters. Parents’ weekend was in a few days, and her family was coming down from Kansas. She seemed to be doing well. She was taking her meds and going to counseling every week. She was talking to her parents regularly — until she stopped.

September was the two-year anniversary of Lane Marrs’ suicide. Marrs was a freshman at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville and a pledge of Alpha Omicron Pi. She had been a student for just six weeks before she took her life.

Photo by Ella Ruth Hill
Hannah Watson, now a junior at the UA, created this artwork in memory of Lane Marrs. It is featured in the Arkansas Union and was chosen for the 2018 Razorback Remembrance ceremony.

Marrs was gang raped at 16, five years before the #MeToo movement launched a national conversation on sexual assault. Girls ages 16 to 19 are four times more likely to be victims of rape, attempted rape or sexual assault. Children who are sexually abused are four times more likely to experience PTSD, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, also known as RAINN. Marrs, like many others, didn’t escape these effects.

Jan Marrs, Marrs’ mother, said the family knew she was struggling with depression, but they didn’t know why. Most people described her as strong, independent and down to earth, but she started showing signs of PTSD in 2015, her senior year of high school. There were nights when Marrs would walk down the stairs of her family’s home in Overland Park, Kan., late at night screaming that she needed to get out of there.

“She was in full-blown flight mode,” Jan said in a recent interview. They had to tackle her to get her to calm down. Lane would wake up, realize what had just happened, and walk back up the stairs to bed. That was the first signal that something serious was going on.

Lane blamed it on mild depression, body-image insecurities and friend problems, but after three different counselors, her family figured out the true root of the PTSD — the gang rape by three boys.

“At that time, we knew nothing about mental health,” Jan said.

In April of that year, Lane made a suicide attempt. After she was rushed to the hospital, she was placed on medication at the doctor’s insistence. She started seeing a psychiatrist who prescribed anti-depressants and anti-anxiety meds, and that summer of 2016 was probably the best the Marrs family ever had.

Reid Essmyer, Lane’s boyfriend at the time, has two tattoos reminding him of her. One is a mandala that Lane drew, the same tattoo she had on her back, and the other is the date they met: New Year’s Eve, 2015. The two started dating their senior year.

Essmyer was aware of Lane’s depression and PTSD, but he was still crazy about her. “You love someone for the good and the bad,” he said.

Lane reported her assault to the police, partially because her parents made her, Jan said. The police started investigating, but Lane wouldn’t help much because she wanted to protect one of the boys she worked with. She died before she could give the police any other information.

“After she died, we decided to focus on healing rather than revenge,” Jan said.

Photo courtesy Rye Studios
A Marrs family portrait taken in 2018 includes golden retriever Angel, named in honor of Lane Marrs. Pictured from left to right are Carlie, Jan, Tinkerbell, Jeff and Angel.

There were a lot of hard conversations leading up to Lane’s departure for the University of Arkansas, but she was determined to go. She promised her family that she could do it, that she would go to counseling every week and continue taking her meds, that she would call home often.

“We put every support mechanism we thought we could around her,” Jan said, adding that she came down to help her daughter go through sorority recruitment, a very stressful process.

The night Lane went missing, she and Essmyer got in an argument. It was late on a Wednesday, and the two were standing at the halfway point between their dorms. Essmyer was in his pledge attire, khakis, a blazer and dress shoes. The argument ended with Essmyer walking away, but when he turned around, Lane was gone. He rushed back to his dorm to grab one of her sorority sisters, panicking.

They ran out the door, down a long, skinny staircase near a row of fraternity houses, through a trail, and back around. Nothing. Essmyer called Lane’s phone over and over. No answer.

Essmyer didn’t hear what happened until days later, when he got a call from the dean of students. Police found Lane Marrs dead in her car Friday evening in a motel parking lot. He broke down and didn’t speak for days.

The week that Lane died, she had four exams, but she thought her medicine caused brain fog. Her plan was to stop the medication for a few days so she could study more efficiently, and then continue taking them like normal. She didn’t know that going off meds for any time could result in a withdrawal worse than the original symptoms. But she did it, and the effect caused her not to sleep for four days.

“She literally went mentally off the rails,” Jan said.

After the fact, her family and boyfriend counted, pill by pill, and could see that she hadn’t been taking them. Jan said that looking back, Lane probably needed another year or two in a tight family structure. “But you don’t know that at the time. We let her lead her own life, which was probably a mistake,” she said.

Essmyer said that if anything good came out the experience, it’s the awareness spread on mental health. Since Lane’s death, more than $40,000 has been raised to support mental health awareness, both on the University of Arkansas campus and in Overland Park, Kan., Lane’s hometown. The money came from GoFundMe donations raised just days after her death.

AOPi launched the Lane Marrs Memorial 5K, and the next run will be in spring 2019. Jan joined the board for Speak Up, an organization working to break the stigma of mental illness by joining forces with parents who have lost children to suicide. Speak Up then partnered with You Be You, which works with high schools across Kansas and Missouri, encouraging students to recognize mental illness in other students.

Hannah Watson, now a junior at the university, met Lane Marrs briefly at the beginning of their freshman year. Watson is an AOPi as well, and when she heard about Lane’s death, she had to do something.

“I want to fix the protocol on suicide,” Watson said. She wishes she had known Lane better, but being an advocate for mental illness, she created an art piece in her honor.

Titled “The Journey,” the piece features a large willow tree standing nearly 10 feet tall and is showcased in the Arkansas Union. Watson said willow trees represent strength, stability and withstanding the greatest of challenges. Her piece was selected for the 2018 Razorback Remembrance ceremony, a bi-yearly program commemorating students who have passed away.

Lane Marrs’ family donated half of the donation money back to the Pat Walker Health Center at the University of Arkansas. Sue Harris, director of development for student affairs, said that the money is being used for a relaxation and mindfulness room named in Lane’s honor. The room will be a place for students to take a deep breath, featuring cozy chairs and headsets with calming music and sounds. The Marrs family will be invited for the dedication ceremony later this year.

“It’s amazing how many literal thousands of lives she’s touched,” Jan said.


Get Help!

If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255, the Arkansas Crisis Center at (888) 274-7472, or CAPS at (479) 575-5276.

Ella Ruth Hill is a senior majoring in journalism at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville and assistant editor of Hill Magazine. Email her at

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