The parents of a Wharton School junior who died by suicide filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the trustees of the University of Pennsylvania alleging that campus professionals failed to respond appropriately to the 21-year-old woman's repeated pleas for help.
Ao "Olivia" Kong suffered fatal injuries on April 11, 2016, when she was hit by a Market-Frankford Line train at the 40th Street station.
Ron Ozio, Penn's director of media relations, said by email Wednesday that the university would not comment on pending litigation.
Kong, a Central High School honors graduate, was taking a heavy course load at the encouragement of an academic adviser during the 2016 spring semester when she twice fell ill, according to the complaint filed in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court.
During a March 30 visit to the Student Health Center for her second bout of illness, Kong reported that she was worried about her academic performance and was becoming stressed and anxious, the complaint says. She had a recorded fever of 102.1 degrees and a pulse of 153.
The complaint details alleged interactions she had with campus professionals as she sought help from Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS).
On multiple occasions, Kong reported having suicidal thoughts.
She had two conversations with a psychiatrist, who reported that she talked about suicide each time they spoke, according to the complaint. The second conversation was prompted by a graduate assistant who told the psychiatrist that Kong had mentioned suicide in a text message to a friend.
The complaint states that "multiple CAPS clinicians intentionally disregarded, completely ignored and/or utterly failed to understand Olivia's repeated pleas for help and specific statements that she was feeling hopeless and considering suicide."
On April 11, a Monday, starting about 6:45 a.m., Kong was recorded on video by a SEPTA surveillance camera at the 40th Street station, according to the complaint.
"She is alone and in her pajamas," the complaint describes. "She is tugging at her hair and staring at her hands. After two trains pass, Olivia flops onto a platform bench. After a third train comes and goes, she gets up and begins walking along the platform's yellow textured caution strip toward the tunnel; with each step she moves closer and closer to the platform's edge. Near the mouth of the tunnel, she crouches down and then sits with her legs dangling off the platform. Within seconds, she jumps onto the train tracks and begins walking along the tracks into the dark tunnel."
Fourteen minutes after she arrived at the station, Kong was struck by an eastbound train.
Kong, who was born in China and came to live in Philadelphia with her family when she was 9, was the tenth Penn student to die by suicide in three years, according to the complaint. Since then, four more Penn students have died by suicide.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of her parents, Xianguo Kong and Zhao Lin, by the Philadelphia firm Feldman Shepherd Wohlgelernter Tanner Weinstock Dodig LLP, alleges negligence, wanton and willful misconduct and reckless disregard, and wrongful death, and is seeking more than $50,000 in damages.