Authorities: Drake Student's Death Self-inflicted

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By Aaron Hepker

INDIANOLA (AP) — A Drake University student who died after he was found leaning over a bridge rail near Indianola died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, state investigators said Monday.

Benjamin Backstrom, 19, was found critically injured April 27 on a bridge over the Middle River. He later died at a Des Moines hospital.

During a news conference in Indianola, Agent Michael Motsinger of the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation said witnesses saw Backstrom walking alone on the highway and bridge. The only car found in the area was Backstrom's and there is no evidence that anyone else had been in the car, Motsinger said.

Officials said they are looking into claims Backstrom made in letters he left behind that he had been threatened.

"All of these reviews and interviews have revealed no credible threats against Mr. Backstrom," Motsinger said.

Backstrom was found with plastic zip-ties around his wrists and investigators found store surveillance video of him buying the ties two hours before he was found, Motsinger said.

Officials also said a handgun is missing from his family's Norwalk home and that Backstrom indicated in a letter that he took it for protection. The gun hasn't been found.

The investigation into Backstrom's death is continuing pending a final autopsy report that will include results of toxicology tests.

Benjamin Backstrom's family released the following statement:

“We would like to share the following information that may allow others to understand what we know so that they may help the authorities resolve this tragedy.
“From information that his family knows, and was confirmed by friends and a letter that Ben left, we know the following:
“1. In the last month, Ben either witnessed a crime or was made to think he had.
“2. He received direct threats not to contact police. Ben received a letter on the windshield of his car with family names, details, and activities.
“3. We know that in the last several weeks he withdrew over $1,400 from his bank account, none of which has been accounted for.
“4. From the letter Ben left, it appears that he was either going to meet with someone, or was instructed to go to the bridge location and sacrifice himself to ensure his family’s safety.
“5. The family is not sure if this was a prank, harassment that went too far, or an actual threat. What is clear is that Ben felt the threat to his family was real and that he felt he had no other choice but to comply.
“6. The family was very close and some previous discussion and his notes to the family were very open about his concerns. There is no doubt in our mind that his death was a reaction to a perceived threat. This has been confirmed by his many friends. There was no signs of depression, he had a date for Saturday’s formal, and had made lunch plans with his father for the following day.
“7. We were informed by DCI that Ben was shot. We have been assured that the DCI will continue to follow-up on the many leads. We also believe that there is no threat to our family or the Drake community.
“We are prepared for speculation and uncertainty around Ben’s death, and we know that the DCI is working with the information that they have and are carefully working through the evidence. We ask that if anyone has additional information, then please contact the police.
“Most importantly, everyone who knew Ben would share that he thought of others before himself in all cases. We would also like to share that Ben was a strong advocate of organ donation. This last week, 3 of Ben’s organs were successfully transplanted into 3 Iowans and one was successfully transplanted into a recipient in Kentucky.”

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