COLUMBIA — Andrea Cooper uses her daughter’s tragic death not only to help college students but also to help her recover from Kristin Cooper’s rape and subsequent suicide.
On Monday night, as she does at universities across the country, Andrea Cooper brought her message to MU's Jesse Hall. In "Kristin's Story," which includes photographs and statistics on sexual assault and depression, Cooper recounts the circumstances surrounding her daughter's death 14 years ago.
“I hope and pray that by being here tonight, if I could just help a handful of people, then Kristin did not die in vain,” she said.
Cooper, who began by describing her daughter’s personality and sharing pictures, said she suspects Kristin had childhood depression. Despite what she calls the harshness of Kristin's middle school experiences, Kristin became active in high school choir, band, theater, color guard and the swim team.
“She really seemed to have it all together,” Cooper said.
Kristin, who grew up in Littleton, Colo., got into the college of her choice, Baker University in Baldwin City, Kan., and left for school in the fall of 1994. “Little did I know a year and four months later, she’d be dead,” Cooper said.
Kristin at first thrived at school, becoming involved in the Alpha Chi Omega sorority and entering into a serious relationship. But when her boyfriend broke up with her in September of her sophomore year, Kristin spiraled into depression, calling home crying and making weekend visits. Finally, her mother told her to get over it, and when Kristin came home for Christmas break she seemed much happier, Cooper said.
Then, on New Year's Eve, Kristin told her parents she was going to go out with friends while her parents attended a dinner party. Cooper was still worried about her daughter, but Kristin reassured her she would be fine.
Cooper said that when she and her husband arrived home about 2 a.m., Kristin was lifeless on the family room floor with a gun in her hand.
Only after reading the journal she left for her parents did Cooper know Kristin had been raped four months earlier. Cooper also discovered that the sexual assault was the reason for her breakup. Based on talking with Kristin’s friends, Cooper thinks she knows who assaulted her daughter, but there was no evidence.
Her husband, Mike Cooper, has never seen her presentation.
“I like to talk about it — I heal through talking,” Andrea Cooper said. “Mike talks about it with me, and he talked about it with a therapist, but that’s it.”
Cooper began speaking out publicly after her own sorority, Delta Delta Delta, offered her a grant. In 1999, a year after she began traveling, her daughter’s sorority, Alpha Chi Omega, offered her another grant. This semester, she is traveling to seven schools on a grant and 14 schools who have paid her to come.
The event on Monday night was organized by Carrie Dent, a student at MU and the vice president of risk management for Alpha Chi Omega. Dent had heard about "Kristin’s Story" from the Alpha Chi Omega headquarters and began an e-mail correspondence with Cooper in January. Dent said that although she did not receive a grant for which she applied to pay for Cooper's visit, Cooper reduced the cost of her presentation from $3,000 to $2,000 because of Dent's persistence.
“I think the presentation went really well," Dent said afterward. "My goal was to fill up the first floor of Jesse, and we did.”
Cooper said she visits an average of 15 college campuses per semester and doesn't plan to stop.
“I had started to heal before I started to do this because of my very strong faith and counseling,” she said after her presentation. “But I don’t think I ever would be as far in healing as I am now if I had not had this chance."