Mike Rondini wants things to be different.
That’s why he’s telling the story of his daughter, Megan, a former UA student who died by suicide in 2016 after alleging rape against T.J. Bunn Jr., a prominent member of the Tuscaloosa community and son of a local construction company owner.
Megan accused Bunn of drugging her at Innisfree Irish Pub and raping her at his home in July 2015. That fall, she withdrew from the University, returned to Texas and enrolled at Southern Methodist University before taking her own life on Feb. 26, 2016.
The Alabama Supreme Court ruled in May that the Rondini family’s wrongful death lawsuit against Bunn, who has denied all allegations, can move forward.
“It’s really been a roller coaster. It’s been difficult,” Rondini said. “When somebody takes their own life, it’s permanent and it’s instant.”
The story was initially reported by BuzzFeed News before making national headlines. Laura Testino, a UA student and reporter for The Crimson White at the time, followed Megan’s story.
“It was a story about education, Southern culture, mental health, friendship, power and how all of those things come together,” Testino said.
Before the alleged rape, Rondini said he felt that his daughter was “coming into her own” and doing well academically. He said what surprised him the most about that period was how quickly everything changed.
“She was always a little introverted in high school and just really kind of blossomed,” he said. “To go from that to dead in eight months is just unfathomable. Right on the heels of that, my wife got sick.”
Rondini’s wife, Cindy, died of cancer in 2019. Rondini said the last few years have been difficult, but he’s been supported by the people in his life. Still, he’s angered by what his family experienced.
“The whole premise of believing women who say they were sexually assaulted is not a universal thing,” he said. “You are supposed to speak up, and that was what Megan did.”
Rondini is part of a law enforcement family and didn’t hesitate when his daughter went to the police. After seeing videos of police interrogating Megan, Rondini said he was “truly appalled.”
During the police interrogation, an officer asked Megan why she did not resist Bunn’s attempts. Bunn’s interrogation ended with an officer extending sympathy to Bunn and saying “if it were me on the other side, I would want the same thing done for me.”
“Daylight is the best disinfectant,” Rondini said. “You’ve got to bring this to the forefront and let everybody see what’s going on.”
Rondini said he looks back on his daughter’s experience with law enforcement and wonders what could have been different.
“I think if we had to do it all over again, I probably would have sent an attorney in with her,” he said. “I think that would have helped. She was 20 years old. She’d never been in any serious trouble where she had to deal with the police or anything like that. She definitely held her own, but I know she was kind of exceptional in a lot of ways.”
While reporting the story, Testino said she was reminded by one of Megan’s friends that it’s easy to see the University through rose-colored glasses.
“It was always a very positive place for me,” Testino said. “Hearing somebody say that and paying attention to other stories taught me to have a critical eye. You know, I was the same age as her.”
Testino said one moment stands out in her memory.
“Her dad shared a photo with me of a [football] game that she was at, and in the background are two of my best friends,” said. “I remember seeing that and just thinking that this can happen to anyone.”
Now, Rondini said he’s focused on changing the systems that failed his daughter. He advocates for eliminating the backlog of rape kits that accumulate in hospitals and complicate the prosecution process.
“At this point, it’s about helping others,” he said. “There’s nothing I could do to bring Megan back, but the things that Megan and my wife Cindy wanted were for other women that claimed sexual assault not to have to go through what we went through.”
His advice to any young person alleging sexual assault or rape is to report it while also taking steps to protect themself.
Bunn did not respond to multiple requests for comment.