EDINBURG — An Edinburg North High School junior found dead at the foot of an external staircase at the University of Texas-Pan American committed suicide, a pathologist ruled Tuesday.
University officials announced the manner of death of Brenda Dominguez, 18, in a news release Tuesday night, but did not provide details on how it occurred.
Dominguez lived less than a half-mile from the campus with her grandmother Edith Rios, 63.
Friends of Dominguez believe she walked to UTPA sometime after 9:30 p.m. Sunday, where she may have jumped from the third-story balcony that connects the external staircase with the Science Building located in the east side of campus.
“I just learned some news that I need to share with Brenda’s grandmother before I go speak with investigators,” a woman waiting outside Rios’ home said Tuesday evening.
The woman, who did not wish to be identified, told a Monitor reporter her children were good friends with Dominguez. They often hung out and had been with her for most of the day Saturday.
Dominguez and a group of friends — which included at least two of the woman’s children — stopped by the UTPA school grounds that day as they walked to Peter Piper Pizza on University Drive, the woman said.
At one point, they climbed the same staircase where construction workers found Dominguez’s body shortly before 8 a.m. Monday.
“Brenda looked down at the ground and said, ‘This is a good place to kill myself,’” the woman said her children told her.
The teens told her not to do it and they continued on their trek for pizza, she said.
However, that wasn’t the first time Dominguez made such an outcry.
“She had been suicidal before,” the mother of Dominguez’s friends said. “Her grandmother knew.”
Dominguez once reached out to the woman in tears saying she wanted to kill herself.
“I spoke to her about it and took her to church with me and our pastor prayed for her,” the woman said, adding she notified Rios about the incident. “She needed more than a hug.”
Dominguez moved to Edinburg from Iowa a year ago, said Rios, who did not mention why.
She would often spend time at her aunt’s house, which is located about three houses away from Rios’ home.
The family last saw Dominguez about 9:30 p.m. Sunday, the 63-year-old said. She had just finished delivering a gallon of milk at her aunt’s house when Dominguez told her grandmother she was going to go out for a walk around the block.
“It’s sad and strange that she left and never returned,” her grandmother said in Spanish.
A neighbor, who also did not wish to identify herself, said she would often see Dominguez walking the street with a cigarette in hand sometimes with friends, but mostly alone.
“She needed attention,” the neighbor said. “She was very reserved.”
The mother of Dominguez’s friends also said the 18-year-old would often cut herself — information a law enforcement source close to the investigation confirmed.
“She had lines going down her arm,” the woman said about Dominguez.
Rios, however, said her granddaughter lived a happy life.
“She would listen to music and liked to cook,” Rios said. “She was happy. She would laugh a lot and was very loving.”
Dominguez adopted about nine stray cats that roamed the neighborhood, she added.
“Actually, the animals disappeared and we haven’t seen them,” Rios said. “I bought them food because of her, and they haven’t come around.”
Dominguez’s parents are expected to arrive from Iowa today.
“They left work. They left school and they’re coming,” Rios said. “They thought they were going to come and see her alive and now look — nobody expected this.”
People can call a crisis hotline at (877) 289-7199 if they suspect they or someone they know is going to hurt themselves or others around them, said Coni Aguirre, chief administrative officer at Tropical Texas Behavioral Health.
The center is one of 38 community mental health and mental retardation centers in Texas that focuses specifically on residents of Hidalgo, Cameron and Willacy counties, she said.
A team of professionals can be accessed through the 24-hour hotline, and if deemed necessary, they will go out to the location of the distressed person to offer help, Aguirre said.
“A team worker will go to the site — at home or Circle K, at a jail or hospital — wherever they might be, and they do an assessment,” she said. “They consult with a psychiatrist depending on what they are saying and doing, and then they determine if it they should be transported to an inpatient psychiatric hospital.”
The services are free of charge and can be accessed by anyone, she added.
“You never know,” she said in regard to threats of injury. “You don’t really want to take any chances.”