EMU student death sparks safety discussion

By ANNA ELIAS | Staff Writer

Megan Kelly never felt completely secure walking around Washtenaw’s campus by herself, especially at night. But since the suspicious death of an Eastern Michigan University student last month, her senses are heightened and she’s even more cautious.

“(It’s) pretty scary to hear about it at first, especially because it’s so close to home,” said Kelly, 18, an occupational therapy major from Ypsilanti. “When it’s in the area, it’s eye-opening that there are horrible people out there.”

Julia Niswender was found dead in her locked bedroom of her Peninsular Place Apartments on Dec. 11. Her death is being investigated as what police have termed an “apparent homicide.” But because it occurred so far off the WCC campus, college officials were not required to send a notice of the crime to WCC students. Many students, however, felt uneasy after not hearing about the case just days after Niswender was found dead.

“The fact that I haven’t heard about it and it’s not far down the road worries me,” said Abby McIntire, 16, WTMC student of Saline.

Discussion began about whether the college should have sent out an alert to students between Allie Sherman, 16, and friends.

“Eastern is really close to WCC…and it’s for our safety,” said Sherman, WTMC student of Hartland.

The concern about safety on school campuses has been a highlight since the Columbine High School massacre in 1999. Most recently, the Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Conn. was deemed the second deadliest school shooting in U.S. history, following the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007.

In the Sandy Hook case, the gunman was not a current student at the school.

This concerns WCC students. They posed the question of how do you know who is supposed to be on campus or in dorm rooms, and who is an intruder.

“Nobody wants to walk around with an ID on them,” said Henry Mata, 35, of Ypsilanti, “but it seems that’s what this world is coming to.”

After the Niswender death, EMU officials listened to questions posed by students at the informational forum the day following the discovery of her body. This resulted in the student-led late-night escort service, Students Eyes and Ears for University Safety (SEEUS), extending its hours for the remainder of the Fall semester. Security at Halle Library, which is open 24 hours, was also extended during finals week.

At the informational forum, EMU President Susan Martin and Chief of Police Bob Hieghes discussed the security changes on campus.

“As the president, I want to reaffirm our strong commitment to safety on this campus,” Martin said.

The university ramped up security presence on campus with hundreds of additional cameras, additional police patrols and many other new security features.

“As a result, our campus is safer than ever,” Martin said.

The Ypsilanti Police Department sent out a press release last Wednesday stating it was waiting on results from toxicology, forensic laboratory results and a final autopsy report.

Lt. Detective Deric Gress, who oversees detectives in the Niswender investigation, told The Voice on Jan. 4 that the Ypsilanti Police were going to sit down with the family before any news is released to the public.

Another death investigation in the Peninsular Place apartments has begun after a 21-year-old female was found dead in her bed at 4:35 a.m. last Friday. According to a press release from the Ypsilanti Police Department, “medication was found at the scene that indicates a possible overdose.” There are no indications of foul play.

The Ypsilanti Police said that this death is completely independent from and in no way connected to the investigation into the Niswender death.

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