Alexander “Alex” Janiak, a Loyola student studying biology, died at his home in Connecticut April 21.
The 19-year-old first-year took his life after withdrawing from classes at Loyola following spring break this past academic year, according to his mother, Karen Janiak. Connecticut’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner confirmed the cause and manner of his death.
Alex was born in Chicago and lived in Naperville until 2002 when his family moved to McKinney, Texas, according to Karen. In 2010, his family moved to Newtown, Connecticut.
He’s survived by two siblings — Tessa Janiak, 23, and Niko Janiak, 21.
Those who were close to Alex are devastated and shocked by his death.
“This isn’t anything you would ever expect from Alex in a million years,” Karen said. “Depression is really, really scary. Sometimes for some people, they get into such a deep, dark place that love is just not enough, because he was truly loved by so many people.”
And Alex was somebody who showed love to others.
“[He was] kind, generous, loving and always did what was right. He fought for those who couldn’t fight for themselves.”
Alex’s father Mike Janiak and Karen both said Alex advocated for those around him, especially people who were bullied while he was growing up. They said Alex wouldn’t tell them he had helped his peers, but they’d hear it from children’s parents later.
“[He was] kind, generous, loving and always did what was right,” Mike said. “He fought for those who couldn’t fight for themselves.”
His sister, Tessa, remembered a time when Alex defended her at a high school football game when she was in high school.
“There was this boy who was being mean to me,” Tessa said. “Alex cornered him at a football game and said, ‘You back off of my sister!’ He was this tiny little baby saying this to a high school kid.”
Even though Alex was four years younger, Tessa said she would frequently go to him for advice.
“He had a great moral compass,” she said. “I would go to him to tell me the truth about things, instead of what I wanted to hear. … He was always grounded, and never the center of attention.”
Alex left Loyola because he felt disheartened after putting a lot of work into a class but not succeeding, Karen said. He entered school on a pre-med track with goals to become an orthopedic surgeon, but eventually considered switching to business, she said. After leaving Loyola, he was studying to become information technology certified to work at the company his father works at, Karen said.
“He had plans for the future,” Karen said. “That is why this is just so devastating.”
When Alex was living at home in the spring, Karen said she noticed his lack of motivation to do things that used to bring him joy.
Julian Rodriguez, one of Alex’s former Loyola roommates in Mertz Residence Hall, and friend Sarah Vinci — an 18-year-old sophomore neuroscience major — both said Alex was witty and had great one-liners.
Alex was also a huge fan of Chipotle, according to family and friends.
“He was religious about Chipotle,” Rodriguez, an 18-year-old sophomore computer science major, said. “He had to get [his burritos] double-wrapped and hated people who got burrito bowls. We were always arguing about that because I would always get a [burrito] bowl.”
Steven Nolasco, a sophomore film major, said he lived on the same floor as Alex and his roommates and remembered how Alex experimented with his hair throughout the year, including dyeing it purple and black and shaving it.
“Alex [once found] black hair dye at CVS for five dollars,” Nolasco, 19, said. “Later that night, he shows up in the dorm with it and is like ‘Steven, help me with this.’”
Gabe Hug, a sophomore computer science major and Alex’s other roommate, remembered when Alex pulled an all-nighter with him and helped him pack before winter break. At dawn, they went to Dunkin’ Donuts — one of Alex’s favorite things to do, Hug, 19, said.
Alex loved playing sports, including baseball, basketball, and wrestling, according to Mike. He was more interested in having fun than competing, but was determined to accomplish things, his father said. As a child, he wanted to learn how to hit a baseball, so his father said he took him out to practice.
“I enjoyed it immensely,” Mike said. “We would go to the school lot, the little field, and I would have Home Depot buckets of baseballs. I would throw six, seven, eight buckets of baseballs. He became the No. 1-ranked baseball hitter in the entire town of over 200 kids, by sheer will.”
“He had plans for the future. That is why this is just so devastating.”
Suzanne Williams, a family friend of the Janiaks, also said Alex was determined and made the best of challenging situations. Williams mentioned a ski trip Alex took with her son in January.
“Alex had no idea what he was doing, but he stayed out the entire day,” Williams said. “Long after everyone had given up, Alex was like ‘No way.’ … He was determined to learn to ski and he had the best time.”
Alex was humble, Karen said. In high school, she said he had the option to drive one of three cars to school, but he chose to take the school bus with other students.
Due to Alex’s kind nature, money given to his family was donated to a Connecticut and Arizona-based organization called Ben’s Bells. The organization promotes acts of kindness through bells made by community members which are hung in random places for people to find. Each bell has a tag attached with a reminder to spread kindness, according to a video on the organization’s website.
Donations can still be made in Alex’s name to Ben’s Bells on his profile page.
“This is what I want Alex to be remembered for — kindness,” Karen said.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death for people ages 15-24 in the United States, and results in approximately 6,252 deaths a year, according to 2017 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Tessa said she thinks the topic of suicide should be discussed more. She said since Alex’s death, people have reached out to their family to share similar experiences of suicide they’ve had with loved ones.
“I think the more people talk about it, it could help,” she said. “You never know who it could be helping.”
A 24-hour suicide prevention hotline is available at 800-273-8255, and Loyola’s Wellness Center (773-508-2530) offers suicide prevention services as well.