Death of Missing College Student From Connecticut Ruled a Suicide

A missing college student whose body was found in a lake in rural western Connecticut drowned himself, police said Thursday.

An autopsy was conducted Thursday on the body of Joseph Zahornacky, 22, of Shelton.

State police closed their investigation after determining foul play was not involved, Lt. J. Paul Vance said.

Zahornacky disappeared Monday night while driving from LaGuardia International Airport to Manhattanville College in Purchase, N.Y., where he was a junior, police said. Family members said he had been in Los Angeles visiting friends and a girlfriend he met while studying abroad in Spain.

Zahornacky told his best friend last week that he was looking forward to returning to campus, Manhattanville President Richard Berman said in an interview.

"He was really, I would say more than any other semester, enjoying his classes," Berman said. "He was saying it was all coming together for him."

A police officer from neighboring Brookfield noticed Zahornacky's 2000 Jeep Cherokee abandoned and sinking shortly before dawn Tuesday off a boat launch in Lake Lillinonah in Bridgewater, nearly 50 miles from the college, police said.

Divers found his body Wednesday after two days of searching in frigid water.

Records show he stopped at a gas station and convenience store in Greenwich. A family friend said it would not have been unusual for Zahornacky to stop in Greenwich on his way back to school, but no one knew why he then went to Bridgewater.

He had called his mother and a friend Monday night to say he was on the road and within 20 minutes of arriving at college.

His brother, Michael Zahornacky IV, said their mother was the last person Joseph Zahornacky talked to. They discussed the possibility of him switching his major to sociology, and he planned to talk to an adviser Tuesday, Michael Zahornacky said.

"My brother was a great man, a great boy and I don't want anyone to ever forget that," Michael Zahornacky said. "To lose anyone in your family is bad. To lose a younger brother is just the worst thing I could ever think of in my life."

Berman said Joseph Zahornacky was studying sociology, management and communication and could have majored in any of them. He said Zahornacky had a zest for life and a gift for writing and music. He volunteered as a mentor, played guitar, studied abroad, and took time off from school to travel across the country with his cousin.

As a freshman, Berman said, Zahornacky spent a few days at Grand Central Terminal, then wrote a powerful piece for class about what it must be like to be homeless.

Berman said students and staff members at the college have been encouraged to talk with counselors. A memorial service has been planned for Thursday.

"He's the type of kid that added that something special and he'll be missed," Berman said.