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The Oklahoma University Police Department concluded that Sarah Tolin of Casper killed herself March 7 and since then has closed the case of the unattended death of the 2000 Kelly Walsh High School graduate, a department spokesman said.

Now the Tolin family, which has shunned the public eye over the loss of their 23-year-old daughter, has objected to the investigation's process and conclusion.

"Our family never believed our daughter's tragic death was a suicide," said Sarah's father, Don Tolin. "Over the past eight months, we have heard from hundreds who knew Sarah and none of them believe it."

Monday, OU Police Department Sgt. Gary Robinson said, "Our investigation in this case is closed; it has been determined to be a suicide."

But that has raised questions, if not the ire, among those who knew her and have experience in researching unattended deaths.

Tolin was renowned as a wrestler who successfully challenged the Wyoming ban on women's participation in that sport, and was scheduled to graduate in May with a double major in sociology and history.

Early March 7, Sarah was found dead in her apartment.

Hundreds of mourners attended her funeral in Casper on March 14.

The OU Police Department stated in March the investigation would take up to 12 weeks, in part because of the time needed to conduct the toxicology tests.

The Oklahoma State Medical Examiner's Office declared on May 23 that she committed suicide by hanging, using a computer cord tied to a doorknob in her off-campus apartment.

"The investigation revealed there was nothing other than a self-inflicted wound," said Kevin Rowland, chief investigator for the office in Oklahoma City. "When we closed it out as a suicide, that's when we were officially done with it," Rowland said Tuesday.

In mid-July, the OU Police Department stated the case was still open pending other reports.

On Sept. 23, Don Tolin received an e-mail from the department's Chief Liz Woolen stating the case was officially closed, although he said he has heard differing reports about the formal closure of the case.

"We are terribly disappointed in the investigation and how it was conducted," Tolin said. "It has been especially difficult being a thousand miles away knowing justice has not been done."

Reports, reactions

According to police reports, Tolin and her boyfriend Joe Blackwolf had been arguing on Sunday, March 6, and when they returned home she went into her bedroom.

Blackwolf later went into the bedroom to check on her and found her hanging from the doorknob by a computer cord. He removed the cord and called 911. Emergency medical services arrived and started CPR. She was taken to the Norman Regional Hospital where she was dead on arrival, according to the autopsy.

Pathologist Dr. Chai S. Choi conducted the autopsy, and her report noted injuries from hanging; scrapes and bruises on her face, chest, arms, legs and hands; and fine diagonal scars on her wrists.

Choi then wrote: "This 23-year-old white female has a history of prior suicide attempts and self-mutilation," but did not cite a source.

"It is felt that the cause of death is asphyxia by hanging. The manner of death is ruled a suicide based upon further investigation of the circumstances surrounding her death by law enforcement," Choi wrote.

The autopsy report did not include observations made by emergency room Dr. Thomas Ingmire when Tolin's body arrived at the Norman Regional Hospital.

Ingmire reported that Tolin had bruising on her back, back of her legs and arms "which may have been evidence of previous domestic assaults," according to an affidavit for a search warrant.

Ingmire's observations merit attention, 7th District Attorney Mike Blonigen said Tuesday.

While he doesn't have enough information to dispute the autopsy's conclusions, the apparent history of domestic violence suffered by Tolin should be a concern, Blonigen said.

"Any time like this when you have domestic violence and these kinds of injuries, it raises questions," he said.

Natrona County Coroner Dr. James Thorpen took photographs and made sketches of Sarah Tolin's body before her burial.

The evidence he saw indicates that she had been hit, and he told this to Don Tolin, Thorpen said. "After the review of the photographs, that was my opinion."

Tim Wilcox, head wrestling coach at Kelly Walsh High School when Sarah Tolin was a student, said the investigation's conclusion of suicide doesn't make any sense to him, either.

"Just from her characteristics and just who she was, I have a very hard time believing she would have ever done something like this," Wilcox said. "She had a very strong will."

Reporter Tom Morton can be reached at (307) 266-0592, or at Tom.Morton@casperstartribune.net.

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