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Erie County DA: Evidence suggests missing Buffalo State student 'took her own life'

Erie County District Attorney John Flynn provided an update Thursday in the disappearance of SUNY Buffalo State student Saniyya Dennis.

The following story deals with suicide and may be difficult for some readers. Resources are available at the end of the story.

According to Flynn, evidence from April 24 and 25 suggests Dennis “took her own life during the early morning hours of Sunday.” Dennis has not yet been found, but Flynn notified her family Wednesday with law enforcement’s findings.

Dennis, a 19-year-old sophomore engineering student from the Bronx, left her dorm on the Buffalo State campus at night on April 24. Her last known location is Goat Island in Niagara Falls State Park just after 1 a.m. April 25.

Evidence, gathered by local law enforcement included bus pass use, phone records, Snapchat posts, and camera footage.

Phone calls and messages with a recent ex-boyfriend and a male friend, both in the NYC-area on the day of Dennis' disappearance, were also part of the evidence gathered. Flynn specified Dennis' ex-boyfriend was "ruled out as a suspect in any kind of foul play.”

An infographic that reads: The warning signs of suicide, according to ReportingOnSuicide.org, include: talking about wanting to die; looking for a way to kill oneself; talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose; talking about feeling trapped or i
Credit WBFO

Flynn said Dennis told her male friend she was planning suicide. The friend and Dennis spoke over phone and text on both Saturday and Sunday, and the friend believed she was feeling better by the end of their conversations.

Another indication to law enforcement that Dennis was not planning to return to campus came just after 11 p.m. Saturday when she left her dorm and discarded items in a campus trash can before boarding an NFTA Metro bus.

On Monday, April 26, Dennis’ parents were the first people to contact the college or police about not being able to reach her. 

Several agencies became involved including the New York State Police, New York State Park Police, Customs and Border Patrol, the Niagara County Sheriff’s Department and the Erie County District Attorney.

Credit Family of Saniyya Dennis

Flynn said they have searched using helicopters and a drone, four to five times a day since May 1, and will continue to do aerial surveillance until she is found. Canine search teams were also deployed to Goat Island on Friday, April 30. Metal detectors and boat patrols have also been used. Flynn added that investigators talked to every business along the route Dennis walked.

“I feel awful that I don't have a conclusion, obviously, that I can't give these parents their daughter. But that's what we have,” Flynn said, adding that his office will not definitively know what happened until she is found.

The family has offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to Dennis' safe return.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a hotline for individuals in crisis or for those looking to help someone else. To speak with a certified listener, call 1-800-273-8255. Crisis Text Line is a texting service for emotional crisis support. To speak with a trained listener, text HELLO to 741741. The service is free, available 24/7, and confidential. Individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing can use the National Relay Service (711) to call. Interpreters are available 24 hours a day for individuals for whom English is not a first language. More resources available at crisisservices.org.

Emyle Watkins is an investigative journalist covering disability for WBFO.
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