HEMPSTEAD, Texas (AP) — A woman whose death in a Texas jail is under investigation was thrilled to be returning to her alma mater to begin a community outreach job after years of bouncing between temp work back home in Illinois, leaving friends doubting authorities who say she killed herself.
Interviews with friends as well as Sandra Bland’s own words in online videos about racial injustice and police brutality present a picture of a young woman on the cusp of finding her niche in life. She landed a perfect job. She had just gone on a joyful road trip to Memphis with her mother. She had a voice and a following on social media and was active in her community.
Even after an online video surfaced showing the 28-year-old talking in March about depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, those who knew her said she would not have taken her own life — not even over the confrontational traffic stop that led to her arrest, which mirrored the ones she railed against online.
“She was in good spirits. She was looking forward to what was next,” said close friend and mentor LaVaughn Mosley, 57, adding that he was unaware of any struggles with depression. “She was making plans for the future, so there’s no way she was in a suicidal state.”
About 100 protesters marched from the jail to the courthouse Friday in Hempstead, Texas, including other friends of Bland’s who were also in disbelief.
Bland grew up in Naperville, Illinois, 30 miles southwest of Chicago. Known in her family as Sandy B, she was the fourth of five tight-knit sisters. She was active in her family’s church and was the only one of her sisters to go to college out of state. She studied at the College of Agriculture at Prairie View A&M University, a historically black school 40 miles northwest of Houston.
It was there in her freshman year that she met Mosley, who recruited her for a job as a 4-H camp counselor. For three summers, Bland shepherded kids between horseback riding, fishing, campfires and other activities at the camp in Huntsville, Texas.
She was a member of the Sigma Gamma Rho sorority, played trombone in the marching band and volunteered with a senior citizens advocacy organization that Mosely runs, he said.
She also witnessed the area’s racial hostility and injustices against the black community in Waller County, Mosley said, describing the area as “very segregated” and so corrupt that the federal government has to monitor elections.
Sometime after graduating in 2009 Bland returned to Illinois, aching to be closer to family, but bouncing between temp jobs.
In January, Bland began posting a series of cellphone videos to her Facebook page under the title “Sandy Speaks” in which she groused about everything from inattentive parents and police mistreatment of blacks to what she called the “generation of heads down” — all of us with our heads buried in our smartphones.
She described the videos — many of them rambling and off the cuff and shot in her bedroom or on lunch breaks in her car — as a calling from God and urged people to share them on social media, saying she believed she was “here to change history.”
Then, around halfway through the series, on March 1, she begins a video by apologizing for a two-week absence.
“I am suffering from something that some of you all may be dealing with right now,” she says into the camera. “It’s a little bit of depression as well as PTSD. I’ve been real stressed out over these past couple of weeks.”
She does not go into any detail.
In Chicago on Thursday, her sisters told reporters nothing in Bland’s background pointed to a troubled mental state. But the family could not be reached Friday to comment specifically on the March video.
Mosely, too, dismissed the talk of depression, saying he believed she was just venting after a bad day.
In the past few weeks, Bland applied for a job back at Prairie View A&M with the family and consumer sciences section of its cooperative extension program. Staffers there work with underserved residents on issues ranging from parenting and money management to nutrition and wellness.
She drove through the night from Chicago for a July 9 interview, dropping her bags off at Mosley’s place in Prairie View. She got the job and returned the next day to fill out paperwork. On her way back she was stopped by police for failing to signal a lane change.
Authorities say she “became argumentative and uncooperative” and kicked an officer. Mosely has talked to witnesses who say an officer dragged her out of the car’s window and slammed her head into the ground.
In a phone call to Mosely after her arrest, he says she sounded upbeat despite the ordeal.
After a weekend in jail she was found dead in her cell on Monday. Authorities say she hanged herself with a plastic bag.
“It just makes no sense,” Mosely said. “Sandy was a soldier; she wasn’t fazed about it.”
Keyser reported from Chicago. Graczyk reported from Hempstead and Prairie View in Texas.
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