Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Gallaudet Murders

Initial Investigation

Officers arrived to tape off the room and to prepare for processing evidence and questioning other students. From the bruises on Eric's face and neck, it appeared as if he had been beaten with a chair, so they looked for someone with whom he'd had a known altercation. Given the heavy security on this campus, due to the school's location near questionable neighborhoods, it seemed most likely that another student or a staff member had committed the homicide someone with access to the dorm. Yet investigators also knew they must keep an open mind. Although students needed a magnetic key card to enter, it was human nature to let others in who claimed they'd forgotten their cards. Thus, it was not that difficult for a determined outsider to enter a secure building. At the moment, almost anyone could be a suspect.

Eric Plunkett
Eric Plunkett

On Friday, the student body was notified about Eric's death and a crisis team stood by for those who needed help to process this difficult news. Right away, several students had theories. A campus group for gay students, for example, believed it had been a hate crime. Eric had signed on to be the secretary of the Lambda Society, and that school year had already seen a number of anti-gay incidents. However, neither the school officials nor the investigating police accepted this notion. The crime seemed more personal than that.

A memorial vigil was held and several friends of Eric's, including Joseph Mesa and Thomas Minch from his dorm, rose to say a few words about how they would miss him. They all commented on Eric's love of adventure and willingness to accept challenge and take risk. Even coming to the school had meant a challenge, in light of his cerebral palsy, and they admired his courage.

Gallaudet University Sign
Gallaudet University Sign

At this time, the student population at Gallaudet numbered about 2,000. With a charter signed by Abraham Lincoln in 1864, the university is the only four-year school in the world to tailor classes and services for the deaf and hearing-impaired. The campus had long been considered a safe haven for young people who often experienced social prejudice and ostracism from the hearing world. Many considered it a privilege to be there, as had Eric.

Reporters found Eric's family, hoping to learn more about him, and his mother, still stunned, remembered with sadness his last words to her: "Don't worry about me."

The whole school mourned and students readily answered questions from detectives, but the situation soon worsened when one from among them became the key suspect.

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