The measure of a man: UConn student Sean Sullivan remembered fondly by all


UConn student Sean Sullivan died of a drug overdose on Oct. 3, 2016. “Sean was known for befriending outcasts and bringing them into his circle,” his mother, Michelle Sullivan said. (Sean Sullivan/Facebook)

Toxicology reports found that Sean Sullivan, a first-semester economics major at the University of Connecticut who passed away in early October, died from an acute intoxication of five drugs on Oct. 3, according to the Connecticut’s State Medical Examiner’s Office.

A processing technician at the Examiner’s Office said Sullivan died from an accidental overdose of fentanyl, diphenhydramine, doxylamine, alprazolam and amphetamine.

Diphenhydramine and doxylamine are the over-the-counter drugs Benadryl and Unisom (a sleeping aid).

Alprazolam is the prescription anxiety medication Xanax. Amphetamine is a stimulant used to treat ADHD or narcolepsy. Fentanyl is a prescription opioid pain medication.

Mother Michelle Sullivan said of the drugs he took, fentanyl was the most dangerous.

“I believe this was a mistake. I think it was a ‘try it once kind of thing’ and I don’t believe Sean was messing around with anything dangerous or insane,” Michelle said.

Michelle went on to say that his life defines Sean, not his death.

“Sean was known for befriending outcasts and bringing them into his circle,” she said. “He was the top orator and debater at his school. He was the person everyone went to for his knowledge of social studies and history.”

In addition to his academics, Sean was a trumpet soloist and section leader in the band at Norwalk High School. He was also heavily involved at his church, St. Jerome Parish.

Over 1,000 people attended his wake, Michelle said. Michelle said one young woman shared her condolences for the family, saying that Sean was an amazing person: indescribable, and would be unbelievably missed. Sean made people the best versions of themselves, the woman who worked with Sean as a camp counselor, said.

Michelle, a high school teacher, wants students and their families to know the dangers of fentanyl. She is concerned that fentanyl is becoming a recreational drug, rather than the pain relief for cancer victims and surgery patients it was intended for.

Fentanyl is 80 times stronger than morphine. Fusion produced an in-depth report on the dangers of fentanyl. Fentanyl can be laced into heroin, which causes multiple problems. Because fentanyl was intended for cancer victims, it is sometimes formed into lollipops or candies to encourage child cancer victims to take it. The introduction of fentanyl into the illegal narcotic market is killing children, Michelle said.

“Fentanyl is not a recreational drug. It’s a death drug,” Michelle said.

Michelle was interested in learning how fentanyl found its way onto her son’s college campus. She is still meeting with detectives to know more.

UConn Police Department Chief Hans Rhynhart said because the investigation of Sean’s death is still open he was not able to make a comment. The doctor at the examiner’s office who examined Sean was unavailable for comment.

Michelle said that a poem titled “The Measure of a Man” expressed Sean’s welcoming nature and kindness.

The poem begins: “Not – How did he die? But – How did he live? Not – What did he gain? But – What did he give? These are the things that measure the worth. Of a man as a man, regardless of birth.”

Claire Galvin is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at

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