STORRS, CT—University of Connecticut sophomore Aaron Bennett, 20, was found dead of an apparent sleeping-pill overdose in his campus-area apartment Saturday, a suicide note riddled with references to the popular TV show The Simpsons on his desk.
"Outwardly, Aaron seemed like a gentle, quiet, stable person," dean of students Kathleen Ernst said Monday. "But clearly, he must have had a darker, troubled side that he kept hidden. The only thing we can be certain of is that, to the very end, he really knew his Simpsons."
Friends and family are struggling to comprehend the dean's-list chemistry major's motivation for taking his own life, as outlined in the three-page suicide letter.
"When death comes so suddenly, it can seem incomprehensible," Ernst said. "It certainly doesn't help matters that Aaron's note begins, 'No banging your head on the display case, please. It contains a very rare Mary Worth in which she has advised a friend to commit suicide.' How do you even begin to explain something like that to his parents?"
Bennett's cousin, Tracy Hogg, said she did not know that the young man was despondent, but did know that he was a big Simpsons fan.
"Aaron had loved The Simpsons since he was little," Hogg said. "He found so much joy in the show. He had nearly every episode memorized word-for-word. You'd think there'd be no reason for someone like him to take his own life."
The three-page note, headed with the inscription "Dumb Things I Gotta Do Today," includes references to plotlines from dozens of the more than 300 episodes of the animated series. Bennett quotes Simpsons mainstays like Bart Simpson and Ned Flanders, as well as relatively obscure characters, such as Lyle Lanley, Disco Stu, and Very Tall Man.
"Today, part four of our series on the agonizing pain in which I live every day," Bennett's note read. "Or should I say part 400? Not even drinking age yet and I'm tired, people. For me, life is like an escalator to nowhere. Well, this is where I jump off."
Storrs Police Department detective Roger Mann said the note is so dense with references that the investigators, most of them only casually acquainted with the show, have had difficulty distinguishing Bennett's original thoughts from the many Simpsons-derived expressions.
"It will take some time to fully understand Aaron's letter," Mann said. "For example, he talks about banishing himself to the land of wind and ghosts, a remark that struck me as particularly haunting and despairing. But later, someone told me the line comes from a Simpsons lampoon of a Japanese TV commercial."
Some of the quotes in the letter contain no clear allusion to Bennett's impending death or despondency.
"On page three, the letter says, 'Can you open my milk, Mommy?'—a line with no apparent suicidal meaning," Mann said. "But then, you don't know. When he quoted Simpsons character Ralph Wiggum, Aaron might have been lamenting his lack of independence or pining for his lost childhood. But I'm willing to bet that he just thought that line was funny."
Continued Mann: "I believe this may also be the case with 'Diagnosis: delicious.'"
Magnus Whittaker, Bennett's friend since junior high and a fellow Simpsons enthusiast, said he corresponded with Bennett regularly until about four months ago, when Bennett mysteriously stopped e-mailing him. Whittaker described his friend as a kind but withdrawn young man whose favorite mode of communication was the quoting of Simpsons lines.
Whittaker said that, in in a phone conversation weeks prior to his death, Bennett was unusually candid about his unhappiness.
"Aaron likened himself to Frank Grimes," Whittaker said, referring to the hard-working Springfield Nuclear Power Plant employee. "He resented that no one paid attention to him, and he complained that no one seemed to appreciate his hard work. Once, when we were IM-ing each other, he said he sometimes wished he would electrocute himself, like Frank Grimes did. I was like, 'Holy flurking schnit.'"
In spite of the warning, Whittaker said he was shocked when Bennett took his own life.
"I am absolutely stunned Aaron was capable of killing himself," Whittaker said. "I was even more bowled over by his note. I mean, that 'I ate too much plastic candy' line was so cool. I actually had to look that one up."
As those who knew Bennett continue to decipher his final thoughts, Ernst urged any students who might feel depressed to seek treatment.
"You may feel unloved, misunderstood, or stressed, but all people experience those feelings at one time or another," Ernst said. "I want everyone to know that help is available from a variety of sources, on and off campus. It's so tragic to see someone so young give up and say, 'Oh, I've wasted my life.' It's just such a shame that Aaron felt his was the worst existence—ever."
"Jeez, now I'm doing it," Ernst added.