10 August 2015

Losing Ernie

Posted by Callan Bentley

I got horrible news yesterday. One of my favorite students committed suicide Saturday night.

Ernie was a participant in last year’s Border to Beltway field exchange. He was a student at El Paso Community College, and was an enthusiastic participant in both phases of that program (a week in spring in West Texas, a week in May in the mid-Atlantic region). I only got to interact with him directly for those two weeks, but he made a big impression on me. He was an extraordinary young man.


I bonded with Ernie easily, as did many of his fellow students. He was impassioned and smart, friendly and vocal. He and I shared a similar worldview: excited by reality, unpopulated by supernatural beings. He had a skepticism of authority and dogma, matched (or exceeded) by an enthusiasm for participating in life, in thinking for one’s self. That’s the thing that makes his suicide so hard for me to process – he seemed so keen on being alive during our brief time together.

He had many obstacles in his path, including financial woes. After “Border to Beltway,” he dropped out of school because he didn’t have the money to pay tuition, and was working for the past year in an attempt to save up enough to return to his education as a geologist.

Without the time necessary to process his death, I went to bed last night deeply saddened. I woke up this morning missing him. It’s painful to know his gifts won’t be shared with our world in the days and decades to come. His absence is our loss.


This morning, I’m wracked with a sense of survivor’s guilt – that perhaps if I had reached out to him more, or more frequently, he might have opted for a different path. But I guess that’s the sort of thing we all think when someone important to us passes away at their own hand.

Perhaps I should flip it around into a prompt that could lead to positive action: how many of the other bright minds I’ve been so fortunate to meet in my job are facing similar struggles, are contemplating ending their lives? Who needs to be reached out to today? I’ve met so many students, struggling with a panoply of issues, and I have it in my power to help some of them.



LPB_1491Photo by Marcelo Arispe

Ernie was an extraordinarily talented artist. His outcrop sketches were precise, elegantly rendered, and insightful. Nobody had better field notes than him.


He was celebrated a musician, too – and his songs enlivened the campfires on our field course. His presence was positive and had an effect of building our sense of community.

He was a gifted person and would have been a talented geologist. I would have foreseen him living a full, happy life. I’m glad I got the chance to meet him.

  LPB_1925Photo by Marcelo Arispe

Descansa en paz, Ernie.