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Police investigate alleged rape of collegiate swimmer who died in suicide

By George Howell and Paul Vercammen, CNN
updated 12:29 PM EST, Tue January 28, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Sasha Menu Courey killed herself in 2011, about a year after she was allegedly raped
  • Questions are being raised about what the University of Missouri knew, and when
  • Courey's mother: "We lost our daughter ... but we can make a difference for others"

Columbia, Missouri (CNN) -- She went to the University of Missouri to fulfill her childhood dream of becoming a competitive swimmer.

Sasha Menu Courey made the team there, on scholarship, in 2009.

But the following year, something happened that changed the course of her promising college career -- something her parents didn't learn about until after she died.

"People were telling us that she had been raped and she wrote it in her journal," said Lynn Courey, Courey's mother.

Courey committed suicide in 2011.

Atty.: MO. Univ. not liable in rape case

In light of a 16-month investigation by ESPN's "Outside the Lines" program, new questions are being raised about what the university knew about the alleged assault, and when officials knew it.

The president of the university sent a letter to school officials late Sunday, saying that he is asking to hire independent counsel to conduct an investigation of the school's handing of the case.

The investigation has now also been referred to the Columbia Police Department from the University of Missouri Police Department.

"Our detectives will do the best they can with the investigation. It was not reported to us until now and we are almost four years behind," Sgt. Joe Bernhard, a Columbia police spokesman, told CNN.

"We can make a difference for others"

According to the ESPN report, in February 2010, after a night out drinking with friends, Courey said she went home with a former university football player -- off-campus -- and had consensual sex.

Months later, she told a rape crisis counselor and wrote in her journal that after the former football player left, another football player entered the room, locked the door and raped her.

Courey's parents say their daughter also talked about the alleged assault with a campus nurse and a campus doctor, 11 months after the attack.

The school never launched an investigation.

School officials say they weren't told about the suspected attack by either the nurse or the doctor because of a policy of not reporting sexual assaults without a victim's consent.

Courey's parents say their daughter had a long history of depression, and in the months after the alleged rape, she grew more and more despondent.

In 2011, Courey took her own life.

"We lost our daughter and we cannot bring her back, but we can make a difference for others," her mother said.

"The University did the right thing"

School officials say they later discovered and turned over to Courey's parents a transcript of Courey's conversation with the rape counselor. They also sent her parents a letter asking if they wanted the matter investigated. Officials say they got no response.

Courey's father, Mike Menu, said, "We did not feel supported in this letter. This letter was a check-the-boxes letter and, really to be honest, it did not deserve a response."

In its defense, the university is raising the issue of privacy.

"Victims of sexual assault need to know that they can seek medical care without the concern that reports will be made to police or campus officials without their consent. Otherwise some victims will be deterred from seeking medical care," it said in a statement.

"We continue to believe that the University did the right thing in trying to be respectful of Sasha's parents and determine their wishes. We think it is strange and inappropriate for the University to be criticized for not undertaking an investigation when Sasha's parents chose not to respond to our request for their input. If they wanted an investigation, they simply could have responded or made a report to law enforcement," it continued.

According to Title IX, a federal law that guarantees college men and women are protected equally on campus, universities are legally required to investigate allegations of rape -- even if the alleged victim is no longer alive.

Brett Sokolow, executive director of the Association of Title IX Administrators, said he doesn't get the sense there is any clear evidence of a coverup at this point.

However, he added: "I certainly feel that the university should have been a little more proactive at trying to bring in information and find out more."

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CNN's Dana Ford and Michael Pearson contributed to this report.

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