Family of Brendan Santo, students call for safety improvements on MSU campus

Posted at 11:30 PM, Jan 26, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-26 23:30:31-05

LANSING, Mich. (WXYZ) — It’s been five days since the body of 18-year-old Brendan Santo was recovered from the Red Cedar River in Lansing.

The Rochester Hills teenager had been missing for nearly three months. He was a freshman at Grand Valley State University and was visiting friends at Michigan State University the weekend of Oct. 30, 2021.

On Wednesday, Santo’s parents Brad and Wendy posted a special message on Facebook thanking the community, along with law enforcement, dive teams and the private investigator who made the initial discovery.

“The journey our family has been on for the past three months has been the most difficult experience imaginable. The pain simply cannot be put into words," the post read. "We would not have been able to get through this without the overwhelming love, prayers and support from so many people in our community and beyond.”

In the wake of the tragedy, friends and supporters are rallying together to call for safety changes on MSU's campus, especially in a particular spot near Santo's last known location. They point out a gap in fencing near a crosswalk where there's a steep drop-off to the Red Cedar River.

Outside Yakeley Hall, a small memorial sign marks the building where Santo was last seen.

“I mean, it’s tragic," MSU student Maxim Jenkins said. "I think it hit the community pretty hard.”

Students like Jenkins say Santo’s death resonated with everyone, leaving some students on edge as they walk campus at night.

“It makes you kind of nervous, it makes you rethink walking alone places,” sophomore Eric Rypstra said.

“As a girl, I always go places with someone," freshman Nicole Bryce said. "But still, it's like well, what if?”

In tragedy comes calls for change. Within days of Santo being found, his family started an online petition calling for additional fencing, signage and lighting in dangerous spots along the river.

“I think it's a good idea, especially with what happened,” Rypstra said.

As of Wednesday evening, the petition already had over 17,000 signatures.

“I can see where they’re coming from because sometimes when you walk by the river, it is rather dark and it’s hard to see at night," Sophomore Adam Gasiorek said. "But I think that not major changes need to be made because I like the landscape down by the river.”

On Wednesday, the university added a chain link fence along the river in the area mentioned in the petition. The school says it’s only a temporary fixture as they look for a permanent solution.

"We are aware of the petition and appreciate the engagement on something as important as public safety," MSU Deputy Spokesperson Dan Olsen said in a statement. "We're constantly evaluating improvements to our campus to further the safety and security of our Spartan community and guests. We're having conversations about this particular space on campus and looking at additional measures to make it safer for our community."

On top of the petition, some members of MSU’s student government (ASMSU) are taking action. Jenkins, who serves as a general assembly representative, is working on a measure with specific changes to present to his peers and hopefully administrators.

Once finalized, it would still have to be voted on before it receives the full backing of ASMSU.

“We started drafting up a bill to call on the university to install barriers, lighting, more infrastructure improvements for pedestrians, to make sure that this doesn't happen again,” Jenkins said.

As students and Santo’s family continue to mourn his loss, work is underway to honor his legacy by finding ways to improve campus safety for students in the future.

“I think we need to take more precautions because you should feel safe when you’re on campus," Rypstra said. "You shouldn't feel like anything bad can happen to you.”

In that petition, the family says that another teenager fell into the Red Cedar River the same night Santo went missing and was rescued by friends.

MSU police are working to confirm this account, but say the situation did not result in any 911 calls.

MSU PD continues to investigate the Santo case but says there is no evidence of foul play and no evidence he intended to harm himself.