MarShawn McCarrel: Columbus community remembers its 'shining star'

The Ohio-based activist's death rocked the local civil rights community, leaving his loved ones and admirers struggling to understand why he would choose to take his own life.

Those who knew civil rights activist MarShaw McCarrel are struggling to reconcile his suicide on Monday night with the inspirational life he led.

The young community leader, who was known for his Black Lives Matter advocacy and community activism efforts, shocked the Columbus community on Monday night when he was found dead outside the Ohio State House, with an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound.

While his loved ones say Mr. McCarrel’s death came as a surprise, a cryptic Facebook status posted hours before his death suggested that he may have been struggling with depression or other mental health issues. “My demons won today. I’m sorry,” it read.

That update was an anomaly on McCarrel’s usually uplifting and motivating page. 

“We waste so much time not loving each other,” he wrote Saturday. 

“Hey Everybody!! These past few weeks have produced some of the most incredible, nerve wrecking, stressful, eye opening, times of my life,” McCarrel posted on Jan. 21.

Just last week McCarrel attended the NAACP’s Image Awards after being recognized as a ‘Hometown Champion’ by Radio One for his work in the community. His work with the homeless and in the Black Lives Matter movement earned him local recognition as a community leader.

"Shawn made an incredible impact and was such a light for literally thousands of people," Molly Shack, an organizer with the Ohio Student Association, told The Columbus Dispatch. "The ripples around him go very far."

Police are not ready to draw any conclusions about why McCarrel killed himself or why he chose to do so in front of the State House, but some activists who knew him well have suggested that he had intended his death to be a final gesture of political activism.

“The Statehouse was no accident,” Molly Shack, an organizer with the Ohio Student Association, told The Dispatch. “We’ve been working so hard, and yet the conditions for the people in our community and the people that he loved and cared about are still so hard. I have to imagine that that burden weighed a lot on him.” 

Another OSA organizer, James Hayes, told the Ohio paper that McCarrel made his motives as obvious as possible.

“He didn’t want any mysteries,” he said. “That’s why he went where he went.” 

Still others say McCarrel’s death had nothing to do with his activism efforts. 

“People commit suicide in public for lots of reasons, sometimes you can decipher what the message was and sometimes you can’t,” Jason Hershberger, chair of the Department of Psychiatry at Brookdale University Hospital and Medical Center, told USA Today. “Sometimes there is a hope that someone could intervene and may have nothing to do with the politics.” 

Regardless of motivation, relatives and peers mourn the leader’s death. 

“In 27 years, I’ve never had a student who I was more proud of than MarShawn,” his high school teacher Steve Shapiro told The Dispatch. Mr. Shapiro regularly asked McCarrel back to speak with current students. “I saw him as a shining star in the future of civil rights.” 

“He just wanted to serve people,” said MarShawn’s twin brother, MarQuan.

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