Facebook Twitter

New details emerge on BYU graduate’s death in Australia

SHARE New details emerge on BYU graduate’s death in Australia
Melissa Joy Dietzel

Melissa Joy Dietzel


SYDNEY — Australian officials and family members of Melissa Joy Dietzel, whose decomposing body was recently identified in a suburb of Sydney, have confirmed her death was suicide.

The news came as a severe shock to her family and her home community in Redlands, Calif., where Dietzel, 22, was described as happy, gregarious and upbeat.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Dietzel was found Jan. 12 hanging 30 feet up an oak tree in Randwick. Officials said she had been dead at least two weeks before her body was discovered in among the branches. She was identified this week through dental records supplied by family.

Dietzel had flown to Australia in November to nanny, but was fired by her employers later that month due to strange behavior, according to the Huffington Post UK. She had complained of hearing voices.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Daily News, Dietzel's family confirmed that Melissa suffered from bipolar disorder and that mental illness runs in the family. Her brother Jared hanged himself in 2009.

The Herald reported that Jared had been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder and had tried to commit suicide twice previously. Melissa and Jared's mother, Vickie Gunther, had two sisters and both parents take their lives.

"Bipolar (disorder) is a condition that runs in our family. It doesn't kick in 'til they're older, but I never thought she was bipolar (until recently)," Vickie Gunther told the Daily News.

But despite her family's history, Dietzel's suicide still came as a shock to her family.

"We never expected his to happen," Vickie Gunther told the Herald.

"She was always smiling, laughing and making jokes — always positive," David Landeros, who attended middle and high school with Dietzel, told the Daily News.

The sixth of 10 children, Dietzel had played in Redlands East Valley High School's jazz and marching bands and made many friends. She was also a focused and efficient college student, graduating from Brigham Young University in three-and-a-half years with a degree in elementary education, the Herald reported.

While at BYU, Dietzel worked as a counselor and was popular with clients, friends and coworkers. But when she returned to Redlands after graduation, her behavior became worrisome.

"When she returned to stay with us, she didn't have a plan and she wasn't following through," said Jay Gunther, Dietzel's stepfather, to the Herald. "It was not like her. She was not sleeping — a real common symptom of bipolar disorder … and she had pressured speech, where she would talk endlessly. It was the first time in our lives (we had seen her behave that way)."

Jay Gunther said the last time the family last heard from Dietzel was Nov. 29, after which they tried to contact her through Facebook, by phone and by email and eventually filed a missing person's report. Her body will be cremated and sent home.

Vickie and Jay Gunther have eight surviving children. Melissa's father, Richard Dietzel, was divorced from her mother when Melissa was still a baby and lives in southern Utah, the Herald reported.

The family and Redlands community continues to grieve.

"When Melissa was there, things were joyful," Vickie Gunther told the Daily News. "She was the best of us."