Post tragedy, friends remember

Friends remember Tobi Lim Sonstroem, an alumnus who took his life last week. The world lost an artist. That’s what Emily Cobb, a graduate student in the metals department of Tyler School of Art, said

ANGELO FICHERA TTN Erica Finkowski, an adjunct professor and friend of Tobi Lim Sonstroem, kneels at the site of a memorial left by his friends.

Friends remember Tobi Lim Sonstroem, an alumnus who took his life last week.

The world lost an artist.

That’s what Emily Cobb, a graduate student in the metals department of Tyler School of Art, said about the tragic death of her late friend and former roommate, Tobi Lim Sonstroem. Sonstroem, 25, died on Main Campus Thursday, Feb. 2, from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Shock overcame Main Campus when word of the shooting reached the Temple community via a series of TU Alerts issued as police investigated. But the disbelief grew far worse for friends who struggled to come to terms with the death of the alumnus, who last attended Temple in 2010.

“We all are in a state of disbelief,” said John Nguyen, an alumnus and friend of Sonstroem. “We can’t believe he is gone.”

A memorial remained on Liacouras Walk, where the incident occurred, for several days following the incident.

On Friday,  Feb. 3, longtime friend Erica Finkowski added flowers to the memorial site she started the night before, and that both friends and strangers contributed to.

Finkowski, an adjunct professor in the metals department, said Sonstroem had been looking for her on campus earlier that day, but instead spoke with her fiancée, a graduate student in the school. Finkowski was not on Main Campus at the time.

“He was looking for me because we had watched our favorite show together…‘Kamen Rider Den-O’…and he had got the belt for it and he was coming to drop it off for me, because, he said, ‘I don’t have much time left,’” Finkowski said.

Raised in Berwyn, Pa., Sonstroem attended the Delaware County Christian School before joining the Temple community. Sonstroem met Finkowski and many of his close friends at Elkins Park, where the art school was housed until 2009.

After earning a BFA in graphic design, Sonstroem remained in Philadelphia where he worked at PGW and produced freelance graphic design work.

“If anyone can get through the graphic design program, you’ve got it going on,” Finkowski said. “He really had his stuff together.”

“[After graduation] I think he was fed up and tired with all the hustle and bustle of design, so I think he needed a refresh,” Nguyen said. “He was juggling many jobs and, I think, was feeling the impact of working odd jobs.”

The two spoke in the end of January, and Sonstroem seemed determined to get back on track to get a computer coding or design job, Nguyen said.

“He [was] always set on ending things on a good note, whether it be a project or a relationship,” Nguyen said. “He always wanted satisfaction and peace in the situation.”

During his college years, Sonstroem spent much of his time with friends playing video games, specifically Tetris on his Nintendo DS and Final Fantasy, making late-night Wawa trips while pulling all-nighters, listening to unique music and watching Bruce Willis and Clint Eastwood films.

He was particularly passionate about Japanese animation and films, like “Godzilla,” Japanese masked heroes and the 1980s “Transformers” series.

Friends described Sonstroem as charismatic, intelligent, creative, caring, honest, level-headed and fun.

Cobb, who lived with Sonstroem for a period of time, said he remained true to his personality.

“[He had] courage to be who he was at all times,” Cobb said.

But, she said, Sonstroem was a private person who sometimes struggled with his emotions.

In light of this incident, students have decided to hold an on-campus vigil on suicide awareness called STEPS – Students Together Ending Pain and Suicide – Feb. 16 at 6 p.m.

“Suicide is something on college campuses that isn’t really talked about [but] is actually happening a lot,” said STEPS creator and senior communications major Malcolm Kenyatta.

The vigil will start at the Student Center and participants will then march to Liacouras Walk together. There will then be performances, time for people to share stories and counseling services. A community response team from Philadelphia’s Department on Behavioral Health will also be there distributing information.

“People forget things very quick,” Kenyatta said. “I wanted to make sure we are keeping the focus on this…and I think it’s going to be very powerful for getting out the message that there are other options you can take when you feel like that.”

Cobb said such an event is a good idea, to raise awareness and educate students about suicide.

“What are the legitimate signs you should act upon?” Cobb said. “Maybe there aren’t easy answers.”

Cobb said she, Finkowski and fellow friends are hoping to connect with Sonstroem’s family to learn of any services being held for Sonstroem in order to have a sense of closure.

For now, friends said they’re remembering Sonstroem for their memories together, for the art he left in the world, and for his quirky habits.

“He would do this ridiculous stance and command called, ‘Henshin!’ [from Kamen Rider], which meant transform,” Nguyen said. “A lot of people would remember him for that.”

Angelo Fichera and Becky Kerner can be reached at

1 Comment

  1. I was a friend of Tobi’s parents, and my daughter went to DCCS with him. He was always a good kid – moody, but clever, smart and friendly. It was a shock for our church family to hear of his death – wish we had seen signs. Tobi will be missed.

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