by Jennifer Katz
On August 31, Marcus Hayes will mark his one-year anniversary as a security guard at Chestnut Hill College. It might have been something to celebrate, but instead, his August milestone will likely be overshadowed by his eyewitness account of Professor Rudolf Alexandrov’s suicide on Wednesday, Aug. 3.
Hayes was the first respondent after a fellow staff member called in that a man was standing on the wrong side of the balcony in St. Joseph’s Hall at 5:15 p.m.
The man was Alexandrov, 71, an adjunct professor with the college of continuing and professional studies since 2007. He taught evening math courses to undergraduate adult students. On Wednesday, his class was scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m.
Although there were scheduled classes, St. Joseph’s Hall was relatively quiet. Fall classes are weeks from starting, and staff offices were closed at 4:30 p.m.
“There is not a lot of activity at that time of day,” said college spokesperson Kathleen Spigelmyer.
Alexandrov had arrived several minutes before his class. His wife Olga, also an adjunct professor of mathematics, was in the building teaching her probability and statistics class, while her husband prepared for his class.
“His routine was to sit in the rotunda, gather his thoughts, papers before class,” Spigelmyer said.
Several witnesses said they saw him there, sitting a table, just after 5 p.m. on Wednesday. Minutes later, he was spotted on the “wrong side” of the second floor balcony ledge.
“When I got there another woman was talking to him,” Hayes said.
“I asked him how he was,” Hayes said. I asked him to come over to the safer side of the balcony. I asked him if he had things on his mind. I asked him if he wanted to talk about it.”
Each question, Hayes said, was met with a listless “Yeah” from Alexandrov.
Another woman, Hayes said, was begging, pleading with the professor, but could not provoke more from the man.
“It was the only answer he gave either one of us,” he said. “There was no expression on his face. It was like the lights were on but no one was home. He just had this blank look about his eyes and facial expression.”
Hayes said he looked away as Alexandrov dove from the ledge, head first, arms at his side, 30-40 feet to the floor of the rotunda. Afterwards he looked over the banister.
“I didn’t watch him,” he said. “I looked over once I heard him make impact.”
Several witnesses screamed as the professor fell to his death, drawing the attention of others in the building including Alexandrov’s wife.
“She knew it was him,” said Spigelmyer.
Spigelmyer said the college was not aware of any emotional or mental issues Alexandrov experienced.
The college is making counseling services available to staff, faculty and students who may have seen Alexandrov’s suicide or the scene on the rotunda floor, as well as any member of its community affected by this tragedy.
“We will do whatever we can,” said Spigelmyer. “People are really shook up around here.”
Hayes, who had “never witnessed anything like that before,” said there are certain images from that day he cannot get out of his mind.
“It was a gruesome sight,” he said.
According to the college, this is the first on-campus suicide in its history.
A memorial service will be held for adjunct professor Rudolf Alexandrov on Tuesday, Aug. 9, at 7 p.m., at the Bryn Athyn Cathedral, 900 Cathedral Road, Bryn Athyn, PA 19009.