AUSTIN (KXAN) — “We were on the way to another funeral for a friend that recently passed away in a car accident, and we got the news,” said Shafaat Ahsen, a senior at the University of Texas at Austin.
It’s been a heavy week for many students there, after hearing about two recent UT students involved in a murder-suicide in Allen, Texas.
Police say 21-year-old Tanvir Towhid and 19-year-old Farhan Towhid killed their 54-year-old father Towhidul Islam, 56-year-old mother Iren Islam, 77-year-old grandmother Altafun Nessa and 19-year-old sister Farbin Towhid before taking their own lives.
Investigators said based on a long and detailed letter one of the young men posted on social media, the two brothers apparently entered into a suicidal pact to end their own lives and take their family with them.
In the letter, Farhan said he and Tanvir were both clinically depressed and decided to take their family members’ lives to spare them any grief over their suicides.
UT Austin said Farhan was a sophomore in the College of Natural Sciences and had voluntarily withdrawn from school in January 2021. They confirm Tanvir was a freshman in the Cockrell School of Engineering, who voluntarily withdrew as a student in spring 2018.
“Whenever it’s a member of your community, whether or not you knew them personally, or what your relationship was to them, it’s always like, a wake up call in the sense of like, ‘That was someone that I could’ve known or I did know,'” said sophomore Hana Thai.
Neither Ahsen nor Thai knew the brothers but said the tragedy has impacted them and their friends.
“There’s not really a good way to say in words like what was going through everybody’s head when we read what happened,” Ahsen said.
It’s why they’ve helped organize a virtual mental health event this Sunday, in partnership with the Islamic Center of Greater Austin and open to anyone.
“This is something that’s probably really necessary regardless of what happened, and especially because of what happened,” said Thai.
The goal of the event includes helping parents and guardians learn about red flags for suicide and self-harm and how to address them. It will be conducted by a licensed clinical social worker.
“The news of this story is devastating, and we express our deepest sympathies to the extended family and friends of Farhan Towhid. The university takes mental health concerns very seriously and has a comprehensive approach to provide supportive services. Anyone with a concern about a university student is always encouraged to call our behavior concerns advice line.
Farhan had been a sophomore in the College of Natural Sciences. He voluntarily withdrew from school in January 2021 and canceled his housing contract, checking out of his residence hall on January 31. The University of Texas Police Department has no police reports filed on Farhan and there were no concerns reported to our behavior concerns advice line.”University of Texas at Austin
“Muslims are not immune,” said Dr. Afshan Khan, an adult and child Psychiatrist at Austin Family Psychiatry in Westlake Hills.
Khan says she’s seen an uptick in patients during the pandemic as a whole, including within the Austin Muslim community.
“We just have [the] same struggles like any Americans do, and we really need to talk about these things,” she said.
She says in order to destigmatize mental health discussions for everyone, it’s important to bring them into spaces where groups already feel comfortable.
That’s why for the Muslim community, she’s hosting a mental health series with the North Austin Muslim Community Center, holding one event per month.
“Making it more common to talk about it, having people from our own community talk about it, at our own centers,” said Khan.
That’s also why Ahsen and Thai helped launch the Safa Institute last year, a student-developed program that aims to connect young Muslims with the professional mental health care they need.
They and Khan say this week’s tragedy in Allen underscores the importance of mental health help in all communities, all the time — not just after an incident.
“It just makes everything feel so much more urgent, in the sense of like what we’re doing,” Thai said.