Skip to comments.Former Olympian Came Close to Winning Medal, Becoming Doctor Before Committing Suicide
Posted on 08/18/2004 4:28:54 AM PDT by Pharmboy
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Robert Howard had two dreams: becoming a doctor and winning an Olympic medal. He came close to achieving both. He made the finals in the triple jump twice, in Atlanta eight years ago and again in Sydney in 2000. This year was to be his last in medical school.
Then, early Saturday, just as the 2004 Summer Games were getting under way in Athens, Howard leaped to his death - from a dormitory next to the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, dressed in blood-splattered surgical scrubs.
Police surmise the blood was that of Howard's wife, Dr. Robin Mitchell, whose body was found when officers went to notify her of her husband's death. She had been stabbed nearly 50 times.
Howard, 28, left a rambling note apologizing for his perceived failures but no mention of having killed his wife. Yet, investigators are calling the deaths a murder-suicide.
"This may be a case that we never know," Sgt. Terry Hastings said Tuesday. "Probably, the two people who can tell us are dead."
Mitchell, 31, was chief neurosurgery resident at the medical school's teaching hospital and herself a track star in her hometown of Newburgh, N.Y., about 75 miles north of New York City.
Howard was a third-year medical student whose athleticism was proven. The star athlete from Shea High School in Pawtucket, R.I., was a 10-time NCAA champion at the University of Arkansas, earning titles in the indoor and outdoor long jump and triple jump. And, of course, he had finished seventh and eighth respectively in his Olympic appearances.
But there was more to the man described by his friends as a superb athlete with great intelligence who kept somewhat to himself.
Police reports and newspaper accounts reveal Howard had a temper. In 1995, he was arrested for threatening his then-girlfriend. The woman said she was afraid Howard would hurt her, and the charge against him was dropped when she decided not to pursue it.
In Fayetteville, where Howard did his undergraduate work, police records show he was arrested several times, including once in 1998 for allegedly pulling a gun on another man during an argument over a woman. The disposition of that charge was unclear.
Howard was accepted into medical school in 1999 but decided to wait a year so he could devote his energy to the Sydney games.
"I want to start that part of my life, but I'm not ready yet," Howard said of medical school in a 2000 interview with The Associated Press from Australia. "First, I want to jump 57-5 or 57-9 at the Games. That's what I want now."
It appears Howard and Mitchell met sometime early last year at school. They were married in May 2003, school officials said, five months after she transferred from Ohio State University.
Howard decided to take another year off to train for the games in Athens. This time, though, he didn't make the team, finishing fifth in the U.S. Olympic trials.
"I knew he was very down after he performed at the trials, but I know Robert and I don't think that this had anything to do with that," Mike Conley, who coached Howard at Arkansas and helped him train for this year's Olympic trials, said from the Olympics in Athens.
"He's already been to the Olympics. He's already done a lot of things. I always advised him he needed to pursue his medical career and forget about jumping."
Howard returned to medical school this summer and was described by spokeswoman Leslie Taylor as a good student. He had not come to the attention of administrators or counselors for any problems - until early Saturday.
Taylor said university police were called to the hospital shortly after 1 a.m. Saturday when Howard, in blood-covered scrubs, was spotted in the seventh-floor cancer ward. A few minutes later, she said, police were notified that someone was trying to get into rooms on the 10th floor of a dormitory next to the hospital.
Once in the dormitory, officers followed a blood trail to the room where they found Howard barricaded. By the time police were able to get in, the window was broken and Howard had jumped.
When police went to tell Mitchell that her husband had committed suicide, they found that she'd been killed sometime Friday night. Officers also found a two-page, handwritten note from Howard that police said was neatly written in the beginning but, by the end, was illegible.
"It was just a note from him saying he was sorry for the mistakes he made in his life and some things about his family," Hastings said. "There's not a mention in there that he killed her.
"We do not have a clear view of why he killed her, and the medical center does not have a clear view of why he committed suicide."
AP Sports Writer Bob Baum in Athens contributed to this report.
He only completed three years of med school. He must have gotten in because of his race.
It is said onlookers gave him a "6" on form, and "2" on presentation.