Father reacts to player speaking out about being accused of a sex attack by his daughter, who killed herself in 2010.
Tom Seeberg has always known the name of the Notre Dame football player accused of attacking his daughter, Lizzy, days before she killed herself in 2010.
So when he heard that NFL prospect Prince Shembo for the first time acknowledged he was that player, Seeberg thought the public might finally better understand the frustrating battle he and his wife waged against a powerful university in trying to learn what happened to their daughter.
"I think the context of revealing his name maybe adds to maybe why we certainly accused Notre Dame of conducting a superficial investigation," Seeberg said Tuesday on WGWG-FM 87.7. "But maybe it adds context to why they might conduct a superficial investigation. In a he-said-she-said matter, you can quickly gather forensic evidence to try to determine what happened there, or you can let it linger like they did. Let evidence spoil."
During the radio interview, Seeberg defended his daughter's character, reiterated his disappointment in Notre Dame and said the university and police more aggressively investigated the 2012 case of linebacker Manti Te'o's fictitious girlfriend than that of his dead daughter.
Although Shembo's identity was widely known by those familiar with the Seeberg case, it was not publicized by the media, in part because Shembo never was charged with a crime.
Shembo addressed the matter for the first time Saturday at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis. He said he did nothing wrong, had "nothing to hide" and that he stayed silent about the accusations under orders from Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly.
"I think it certainly opens up a lot of questions for him, maybe for ND," said Tom Seeberg, a commercial insurance broker from Northbrook. "I think those are probably for others to ask; for them to answer. ... We just sought truth in this process. So for us, it was never about him personally. It was about really getting to the truth."
Paul Browne, a spokesman for Notre Dame, declined to specifically address Seeberg's comments. But Browne said, "Anyone who heard Mr. Seeberg today could not help but empathize and only imagine how terrible and excruciating his loss."
Shembo's lawyer, Joe Power, said in a Tribune interview Tuesday that his client had done nothing wrong, adding that Shembo's version of what happened was backed by two witnesses and by cellphone records.
Power said any suggestion that Notre Dame conducted a superficial investigation because it involved a star football player was unfair and inaccurate. "It's not like he was a Heisman Trophy candidate," Power said. "He had not even played in his first game yet."
The Tribune in November 2010 reported that campus authorities did not initially tell county police about Seeberg's report of a sexual attack, nor did campus police refer the case to the county's special victims unit, which was established to handle sex offenses.
Lizzy Seeberg was a freshman at neighboring St. Mary's College when she met Shembo. Seeberg, who battled depression and an anxiety disorder, described her account of what happened Aug. 31, 2010, in a typed statement she gave to campus police.
She said she was alone with Shembo in his room when she began to feel uncomfortable with the conversation. "I started feeling as though I was in danger," she wrote. "I didn't feel safe in his room."
Seeberg then described how she cried and her body froze as the alleged attack ensued. Her allegations did not describe penetration; the campus police log listed the complaint as an alleged sexual battery. She said Shembo licked her breast. The incident ended when the player's cellphone distracted him, Seeberg said.
On Sept. 2 she received a text message from one of Shembo's friends, telling her, "Don't do anything you would regret. Messing with notre dame football is a bad idea."
She killed herself Sept. 10, overdosing on prescription medication.
Seeberg's parents questioned the campus police department's reluctance to obtain phone records related to her case, the lack of transparency in the investigation and the delay in interviewing Shembo. Police didn't interview him until Sept. 15 — 14 days after Seeberg reported the alleged attack and five days after her suicide.
Power said the "interaction was consensual" between Seeberg and Shembo and that the player halted it. He said cellphone records show Shembo texted a friend telling him to come back to the room.
"I'm sorry that doesn't fit the version of those who like to attack Notre Dame," Power said.
Tom Seeberg suggested that Notre Dame and others tried to undermine his daughter and her account of what happened.
"And then you see this frenzy, if you will, of these stories out there ... 'Hey, this girl was a little wacky, crazy. She had a history, maybe a prior suicide attempt is out there' — which is absolutely untrue," Tom Seeberg said. "Maybe a prior, as far as a similar complaint — completely untrue. That was spun out there pretty good.
"And I think ND used that to talk to VIP alumni, talk media off the story," he said. "So at the same time there was a protection of Shembo, and Shembo using his lawyer to protect himself, there was this spinning and trashing of Lizzy's character to undermine her credibility."
Seeberg cited a question once asked of him by a reporter about Shembo's lawyer claiming his daughter's condition warranted constant supervision.
"I would be more than happy to release her entire academic, medical records — her entire history — if he was willing to do the same as it respects his client, and then maybe we can let the public decide who was in greater need of supervision," Seeberg said.
Seeberg said people miss the point when they note that Shembo was never charged. He said Notre Dame gave the case to the local district attorney, knowing there was zero chance of criminal proceedings.
"We knew it; ND knew it; the DA knew it," Seeberg said. "You're looking at the sole, basically, witness to this — the victim being dead and her statement being inadmissible — and you're going to convince 12 jurors beyond a reasonable doubt? It's not going to happen. It never was going to happen.
"But with him claiming and hitting the headlines of 'No charges filed,' it gave him an extra shield, and it gave ND some great things to pivot off of, saying, 'Hey, there's nothing to see here.'"
In the wake of Seeberg's death, the U.S. Department of Education launched an investigation in Notre Dame's handling of sexual assault cases.
As part of an agreement between the school and the Department of Education, Notre Dame pledged to make wide-ranging reforms in its handling of such cases.
Seeberg said no one from the university, including Kelly, has reached out to express regret about how the university handled the matter.
"When you're rocked to your core, you're left with kind of who you are," said Seeberg, part of a family that has sent 13 members to Notre Dame or St. Mary's.
"And you're left with the trust of your family, your friends and your institutions to support you," he said. "We approached ND at a time when we were very raw, very vulnerable and very trusting, that they would live this higher standard of doing the right thing. And so it is just really the profound disappointment that something we believed in so deeply let us down."
By Todd Lighty and Rich Campbell