Ellison: We need answers

Raising Hellison

Andre Narcisse ’12 was one of my Branford little sibs, but beyond the initial meet-and-greet at the beginning of his freshman year, I did not have any interaction with him. To be honest, I didn’t even remember meeting him until after he died when I wondered how we were Facebook friends and found an old e-mail. Sometimes I wonder whether I could have been a better big sib and done something to prevent his death at the hands of “multiple drug toxicity.”

But that’s not the only thing I’ve wondered since I learned of Andre’s death four months ago.

I grew frustrated with the way the University was handling Andre’s death early on. Through the Branford grapevine, I heard a few hours after his death that drugs were involved. I realize that this was a rumor, but is that not what investigators refer to as a lead? If the Yale Police Department didn’t know drugs were to blame, they should have.

I recognize that speculation can have negative effects, especially during a time dedicated to mourning a life taken too soon. At the beginning of November, we appropriately wanted to celebrate Andre and did not want the specter of drugs looming over his life. I understand; it makes sense to wait for an official toxicology report so that all doubt can be removed.

It is of course also possible that the YPD suspected, as many of us did, that drugs were the cause of Andre’s death and, for the reasons described above, decided not to announce their suspicions publicly. But frankly, if they did, their conduct was troubling in a number of ways.

They didn’t say anything to Andre’s mom, who told Newsday in November, “Everyone is in a state of limbo. The family will not have rest until we know.” They made no public attempt to investigate how he got the drugs, a transaction that presumably involved illegal activity. Rather, the News reported Nov. 2 — one day after he was pronounced dead — that “police do not suspect foul play.”

I don’t know the technical definition of “foul play,” but there is precedent for legal investigations after drug-related deaths. Perhaps the most famous example was the case of Len Bias, the star University of Maryland basketball player who died of a cocaine overdose the night after the Boston Celtics selected him second overall in the 1986 NBA draft. Following Bias’ death, his friend Brian Tribble was indicted for possession of cocaine and possession of cocaine with intent to distribute, and Maryland players Terry Long and David Gregg were both charged with possession of cocaine and obstruction of justice, although none of the three were convicted.

Some may question the usefulness of such an investigation, pointing to Yale’s alcohol policy that emphasizes safety over law enforcement. I fully support this policy when it comes to alcohol. And I think Yale should provide as many resources as possible to help those who have substance abuse problems, as Andre may have had. But drug distribution is a different matter. The University should not look the other way when someone sells or gives drugs to a 19-year-old. In this case, for purposes of justice and for purposes of deterrence, the laws should be enforced.

Perhaps the most troubling part of all of this is that Yale has a clear motive to not investigate. It is entirely possible that an investigation could implicate fellow students, just as the Bias investigation did. As they were at the University of Maryland, such implications would be a public relations nightmare for Yale.

I have no reason to suspect a planned cover-up. But I do know that if Yale wanted to cover something up, I can’t think of anything they would have done differently. And four months later, with no real investigation started, it would be much more difficult to recreate the events that led to Andre’s death. It is, of course, possible that the way the University handled the situation was driven by incompetence, or to be fair, by decisions made in good faith with which I simply disagree.

Whatever the rationale, the decisions that were made were, in my opinion, the wrong ones. Current and prospective Yale students need to know that the University is doing everything in its power to prevent deadly illegal substances from being sold on its campus. It won’t bring my little sib back, but it will make Yale a safer place for everyone else’s.

Matthew Ellison is a senior in Branford.


  • A delicate matter

    This piece is filled with heart-felt survivor’s guilt and feelings of social conscience, and I hesitate to comment on matters so delicate and earnest. Forgive me please for daring to comment around the fringes of, rather than on, those matters.

    In my one-block walk to Patricia’s restaurant at Elm and Whalley during my Div. School days, a dude tried to sell me cocaine in broad daylight at the top of his lungs “Want to buy some coke?”

    Once while on the same one-block walk I observed someone snort white powder off a tiny piece of paper while seated behind a steering wheel in a parked car.

    I worked to assist a prostitute who had AIDS and who continued to solicit on the streets and “boot up” (inject) her buddies with a dirty heroin needle.

    And these events occurred 25 years ago. I cannot imagine the situation today now that drug cartels have made their effects known even in sleepy Vermont.

    An investigation as the writer suggests would require searching an entire city.

    The problem is the CULTURE not the campus or the city.

    We seek exhilaration at any cost, including addiction and death.


  • Yale

    This is a profoundly irresponsible column from a profoundly uninspiring writer.

  • LNC

    You expressed exactly what I have been thinking. I thought that the next step was going to be disclosure of those who contributed to his death. Identification of the source of the drugs is critical to ensuring campus safety. Elimination of drug dealing should be priority number one after this tragic loss of a young life. That is the real way to honor Andre…a Yale community: students, admin, public safety working towards an environment where it is very difficult to purchase or distribute illegal substances.

  • Yale mom

    The writer has touched on a phenomenon common to many powerful and influential institutions – that of the code of silence. Damage control at the expense of the whole truth can backfire.

  • AMG

    In the Anna Nicole death, there was an investigation…in the Michael Jackson death…there was an investigation.

    Why is no one trying to investigate who sold him the drugs? Who was or were the enablers?

    Why didn’t any of his so called friends alert someone to his increased drug usage?

    Why didn’t any of his suitemates (probably knowing his drug history) try to wake him up?

    Yale is very lucky I am not this young man’s mother!!!! They would be in a massive legal battle with me right now.

  • @AMG

    Your comment is disgraceful.

    Since you were clearly not one of Andre’s friends, you have no right to question his friends for not “alerting someone.” If your friend starts drinking, do you “alert” someone? If someone who has used drugs before starts using different drugs, do you “alert” someone? The answer is never clear, so don’t act like it was for Andre’s friends.

    And how dare you blame his suitemates. Try to wake him up? They found him in the morning and immediately did everything they possibly could to help. And you are questioning them?

    The fact that you are trying to turn this tragedy into a legal blame game is a disgrace to Andre and his friends.

  • Alum

    In the emergency room every day we see acute opiate or cocaine intoxication. The police do not become involved. There is no effort at all to determine how the patient got the drugs. Drug dealers and addicts are so widespread that our efforts are patient centered. After stabilizing the patient, we try to find out why they used the drugs and attempt to get them on the road to recovery.

    Drugs exist both in New Haven and at Yale. If you have money you can get them and if you want to you can use them. The story of Andre Narcisse is a inevitable tragedy. Those without willpower will use drugs, and an unfortunate few will succumb to them.

    The real villain here is Matt Ellison. He did not know Andre. He is not looking for closure. He is not looking to correct a great wrong. Matt Ellison is a passive bystander looking for entertainment. A promising young life ended in an eye grabbing headline and Matt Ellison’s interest was peaked. Who? What? When? Where? Why?

    Publicly answering these questions will provide no relief and not prevent further drug use. Please let Andre Narcisse rest in peace.

    More importantly, Matt Ellison, in the future, you should think before you write. I hope you are not applying to medical school and I sincerely hope your application does not fall on my desk. Put down your pen and grab an US Weekly. Get your sick entertainment somewhere else.

  • AMG


    Your obviously having feelings of guilt. I suggest you see a therapist.

  • Another Alum

    #6: “The real villain here is Matt Ellison” whom you’d try to blackball from admission to medical school? Seriously? If you really are an alum, then you learned some strange lessons about freedom of speech and tolerance for ideas that may differ from your own.

  • Another Alum

    Sorry–my comment was meant to address #7, not #6.

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