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Friends Say Cyanide Drinker Often Talked Suicide

April 19, 1986

AMHERST, Mass. (AP) _ A talented 17-year-old high school dropout who took a fatal drink of cyanide-laced Kool-Aid on a live campus TV show had talked of suicide for weeks, and some of his friends even organized a mock ″Last Supper″ for him.

Andrew Hermann’s friends said they believed his talk of death was simply part of his self-mocking sense of humor, even after he fell on the floor of the Hampshire College studio Wednesday.

Security guards discovered his lifeless body after the satirical comedy show, ″Voice of the Top Two″ was over.

″He had talked about suicide before,″ Edward D. Etheredge, assistant district attorney, said Friday. ″He may have expressed a motive in the speech he gave that was clear to him, but would not make sense to an outsider.″

Hermann’s brother, Stephen, a Hampshire student and a producer of the show, described his younger brother as intelligent, talented with computers and graphics. He said Andrew had been bored with high school and had been troubled about other things, ″no one else’s business,″ he added.

Philip Jackson, another producer, said some of Hermann’s friends gave him the ″Last Supper″ several weeks ago as a joke.

Barbara Surrell, the owner of a Belchertown restaurant where the boy worked part-time as a dishwasher, told the Daily Hampshire Gazette that he took time off from his job three weeks ago saying ″he had something to do at the college.″

Hermann dropped out of high school in February and planned to attend Hampshire in the fall.

Students said Hermann downed the mug of poisoned liquid on the show after a long, satirical speech attacking the administration of the college for its admissions policy and its handling of several disciplinary matters.

W. Randy Bannecker, a student from Seattle who watched the show, said Hermann’s complaints centered on his view that the 20-year-old private college with its experimental approach to a liberal arts education was becoming more traditional.

He described the speech as ″gripes about the administration that weren’t out of the ordinary″ but said it would be naive to believe that the youth’s dissatisfaction with the school led him to take his life.

The investigation’s preliminary conclusion was suicide, with ″no evidence that anyone knew of Hermann’s intentions on the evening of April 16,″ said District Attorney W. Michael Ryan. No charges were anticipated, he said.

Ryan and Etheredge refused to allow reporters to view the two videotapes of the show, broadcast live on the college’s closed circuit television system, or see the script the boy wrote.

They maintained, despite the denials by Jackson and other students involved in the production, that the boy had referred to the 1978 deaths of the Rev. Jim Jones and hundreds of his People’s Temple followers from cyanide-laced Kool-Aid at Jonestown, Guyana.

″The thrust of the speech was an attack on the policies of the college and the reference to Jonestown may have been fleeting,″ Etheredge said.

Etheredge said investigators did not know where he got the cyanide.

Students in the production washed out the beer mug the boy used on stage, Etheridge said, but he declined to comment on whether officials had obtained any of the liquid or poison the boy used.

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