UNH lecturer's suicide catches students by surprise
DURHAM — Eric Paul Engel's students expressed shock and sadness when they showed up for his class Monday for the first time since learning that their teacher was suspected of killing a former family friend before committing suicide.
Students who knew and liked the 43-year-old University of New Hampshire lecturer said they never saw this coming.
He appeared to be fine during classes last week and told his students that he would see them on Monday.
Junior Adrianna Leone, 20, of Salem, has replayed last Wednesday's class several times in her mind since his death and can't find anything out of the ordinary.
It was the last class she had with him.
"He was talking about extra-credit assignments and how he was looking forward to reading our different papers and stuff like that," she said Monday as she prepared to return to the conversational analysis class taught by Engel.
Police in Cary, N.C., said they believe Engel, of Durham, drove to North Carolina where he shot and killed Aleksander "Lenny" Wysocki, 74, on Friday. He is then believed to have driven to a motel in Dunnellon, Fla., and used a Glock 19 handgun to shoot himself in the head.
The Cary News reported that Engel contacted a family member and confessed to the killing, but Cary police Capt. Don Hamilton said Monday he could neither confirm nor deny the report.
Hamilton also wouldn't comment on a possible motive, but said, "We're 100 percent confident on what the motive was and the connection."
Engel was hired as a UNH lecturer in August and taught three courses in the department of communication.
Students were told that a new lecturer would be chosen soon and that mid-term exams would still be held in two weeks. They were also offered grief counseling.
Junior Maggi Hanson, 21, of Exeter, was in Engel's introduction to language and social interaction class.
"I thought that it wasn't true. I couldn't believe it," Hanson said, recalling her reaction when she heard the news over the weekend.
Hanson described Engel as an energetic and engaging teacher who connected with his students.
Some days he wore a bandanna, jeans and a leather jacket to class.
"He was happy to be where he was and was excited for us to take something away from the classroom. He was just a really dedicated and exciting teacher," Hanson said after class in the Horton Social Science Center — the building where Engel taught.
Hanson said the last time she had class with Engel was last Wednesday. She chatted with him for about 20 minutes after class that day, talking about readings for class and documentaries.
Hanson visited with a friend Sunday and shared their thoughts on the murder-suicide.
"This is the last thing we would have ever expected. He was an interesting and sort of like eccentric kind of person. I could never ever think of him hurting someone. He was just a very genuine person," Hanson said.
Engel received some poor reviews by students on the website RateMyProfessors.com.
One former student wrote that he was a "complete nightmare" and that his personality was "all over the place."
But Leone said he was "one of my favorite professors I've had."
A forward thinker
She added, "He was a very forward thinker. He encouraged you to try things, and if you made a mistake you learned from it. I would like to know how this happened because if you knew him you never would have expected this."
The shooting death and Engel's suicide also shook those who didn't know him.
"I was just floored by it. You don't expect that kind of stuff to happen at a university like this, especially one of the faculty," said junior Jacob Rheaume, 22, of Dover.
Rheaume, who was at a women's hockey game when he learned the news, said it was a shame that Engel would be grouped with other "outstanding" professors at UNH.
Others said it was unfortunate that some of the good work that Engel did in the classroom will be forgotten.
"I just hate that this is all he's going to be remembered for," Hanson said.