Johnstown Teacher's Fatal Leap Baffles Canadians

By Tom Gibb
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pennsylvania)
March 15, 2003

Investigators say a Johnstown high school teacher who fled to Canada last week with a 15-year-old girl gave no warning before climbing onto the balcony railing of his mother's Ontario apartment and jumping four stories to his death -- in view of the teenager.

It's not clear if 38-year-old Thomas Lemmon even knew that police -- at the apartment door when he jumped -- had arrived, the Ontario-based Special Investigations Unit reported.

"There's nothing he said, nothing he did made it clear he was going to do this," Kaia Werbus, the agency's spokeswoman, said yesterday.

While Lemmon's family prepared to bury him suburban Johnstown this morning, investigators and a Canadian civilian review board closed the case yesterday by holding police there blameless.

"Based on the facts as known, it is my opinion that Mr. Lemmon's motivation for and intention on jumping will remain with him, as it cannot be determined with absolute certainty from the available evidence," Special Investigations Unit Director Peter Tinsley said in a statement released yesterday.

Lemmon, himself the father of a two teenage students at the school where he taught, was suspended 10 days ago from Bishop McCort High School amid questions about his relationship with the 15-year-old. The girl was a Bishop McCort student who, along with her mother, had grown close to Lemmon's family while her parents divorced.

Lemmon and the teenager both went missing later that day. Johnstown police, tipped off by one of the teenager's friends, issued alerts that Lemmon and the girl might be bound for his mother's apartment in Welland, Ontario, 20 miles west of Niagara Falls.

The Special Investigations Unit, which said Lemmon wasn't under the influence of drugs or alcohol, reported that he had made no calls to police. But, at the moment officers from the Niagara Regional Police Service arrived at his mother's apartment door, Lemmon -- with the teenager, his mother and stepfather in the apartment -- climbed the balcony railing and jumped into the parking lot, more than 30 feet below.

Authorities returned the girl to her mother.

"We had a detective pick the girl up at Erie," Johnstown Police Chief Craig Foust said yesterday. "She was very quiet and reserved."

Meanwhile, police in Cambria County continued their own investigation into whether Lemmon had been involved with other students. Among evidence they collected and are preparing to examine, Foust said, was Lemmon's home computer, which his family surrendered voluntarily for a search to recover files such as e-mails.


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