Update: On the morning of Oct. 30, after the publication of this article, the University included its Friday press statement about the situation in its @rochester email newsletter, which is sent to all rochester.edu email addresses.
Professor Heikki Rantakari has been missing since Oct. 21. Rochester police said Friday they found video of him falling into the Genesee River from the Bragdon Place pedestrian bridge — but they still haven’t located him.
Rantakari, an associate professor of economics and management in the Simon Business School, was first reported missing to the Brighton Police Department after he was uncharacteristically absent from a game theory class he was scheduled to teach that morning.
Also a visiting associate professor of applied economics at MIT, Rantakari lives in Boston but commutes to Rochester when scheduled to teach at UR. He landed in town Oct. 20 around 7 p.m. and was last seen around 9 p.m. at his Airbnb on the corner of Riverview and Exchange, RPD Captain Greg Bello said Wednesday.
Before they located the video that they believe shows Rantakari falling in the river, Bello said RPD had gathered “some information that makes us believe that he may be in danger.” The stakes prompted several Simon Business School students to band together to post flyers around the city. The University, however, still has yet to issue any information about the situation directly to the full faculty and student body (see: “UR’s questionable response” below).
Police updated the public Friday and said that they now believe there is no evidence of foul play. Though RPD has yet to comment publicly on whether they presume Rantakari to be dead or alive or on whether his fall was accidental, University Spokesperson Sara Miller said in a statement Friday that he is now “presumed to have accidently drowned.”
“This is devastating news for us all and our hearts go out to his wife, family, friends, colleagues, and students,” Miller’s statement continues.
RPD’s recovery effort, which they say involves searches of the river and surrounding areas using scuba units and various technologies, hasn’t managed to find Rantakari yet, but the search is ongoing.
UR’s questionable response
Despite recently emailing faculty and the full student body about incidents of racist vandalism in Schlegel Hall and the administration’s statement on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the University still hasn’t said anything directly to students or faculty about Rantakari’s situation.
The Simon Business School conducted its own publicity campaign. Dean Sevin Yeltekin notified Simon students early last week via email that Rantakari was missing, and she sent out the University’s updated statement to students after police discovered the video that they believe shows him falling into the river. Simon also posted about Rantakari’s disappearance on their Instagram account Tuesday directing anyone with information to call 911.
“Our community has been exemplary and shown tremendous concern and support by posting on social media, putting up flyers, and sharing information with Simon’s administration and law enforcement,” Yeltekin said Friday in an email to Simon students and staff.
However, Simon students and faculty only make up a small fraction of the student body, and their Instagram account has about one-tenth the following of the University’s.
The Campus Times solicited information via Instagram on Thursday about how and when students found out about Rantakari’s disappearance. The post got responses from 42 students and alumni who found out about the situation in a myriad of ways.
Most found out on social media — either from folks sharing the Simon Business School’s Instagram post, from posts on the Rochester subreddit, or from Linkedin posts. Some were notified by the CT’s solicitation itself.
Many others were notified by parents who had seen news reports. Rantakari’s disappearance was covered widely by local and national media. Some recounted telephone game-like scenarios where parents of roommates or friends from the Rochester area saw the local news and contacted those roommates or friends about the situation, who then told them.
“Literally I overheard these girls talking about it in class THIS MORNING when it’s already pushing a week since it happened,” senior Cindy Andino told CT in an Instagram direct message. “That’s when I searched it up and seen it on all the news outlets. It’s sad that the school hasn’t directly informed us on his disappearance and we have to find out through the news.”
17 respondents said they found out on Tuesday, 12 said Wednesday, and seven said Thursday. Six either didn’t comment on or couldn’t remember exactly when they first found out about Rantakari’s disappearance.
“The fact that u of r didn’t push this out immediately after law enforcement got involved is concerning,” said senior Ben Gien.
Junior SA President Daniel Pyskaty and sophomore Vice President Elijah Bader-Gregory issued a statement about the communication lapse to CT on Oct. 30.
“Any formal communication surrounding the upsetting disappearance of Professor Rantakari we expect to come from University administration,” the statement reads. “At this time, we and the entire undergraduate community are with Professor Rantakari’s family, his students, and the entire Simon community.”
CT asked Sara Miller, the University’s spokesperson, on Thursday if there was a reason for the lack of communication or if she could connect CT with someone who could comment on the matter. She did not answer those questions.
Editor’s Note: This article was corrected on Oct. 30 to include a statement from junior SA President Daniel Pyskaty and sophomore Vice President Elijah Bader-Gregory.