- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 13, 2001

Two male students at Gallaudet University, a renowned institution for the hearing-impaired, have been slain this school year. One was beaten to death in September and the other was fatally stabbed in early February. Eerily, both victims resided in the same dormitory, both were freshmen and both were 19 years old. Police have not ruled out the possibility that the killings are related, which means they don't know whether they are looking for one killer or two killers or even more.

If police and school officials are frustrated at their inability to solve these cases, it's not hard to imagine the fear that also grips both the school campus and the Gallaudet "family" in general. "There is a lot of tension, a lot of stress," Gallaudet's student body president, Chris Soukup, said shortly after the Feb. 3 killing. "I think the large concern right now is just not knowing. Period. I think that's the scariest thing at all, not knowing."

Police thought they had nabbed the killer in the first case, the Sept. 28 killing of freshman Eric Plunkett. Some of Mr. Plunkett's friends had grown nervous when they didn't hear from him all day, so they called police. What they found was Mr. Plunkett bludgeoned about the head and the neck. A friend of Mr. Plunkett's was arrested and charged with his death, only for prosecutors to drop the charges later because of insufficient evidence. Interestingly, there are reports that a grand jury is investigating the Plunkett death, but authorities have refused to comment, probably out of concern that they might jeopardize the case a second time.

The second case involves the Feb. 3 stabbing of Benjamin Varner. Mr. Varner's body was found during a room search after someone tripped the fire alarm at about 4:15 am. Police do have substantial physical evidence, including a knife and bloodied ski jacket recovered from a trash bin behind the dorm. As for a suspect or suspects, police have not yet named anyone. Authorities do know something else, though there are two ways the killer could have gained entry to the dorm, his own magnetic swipe card or by someone letting him in.

Metropolitan Police Chief Chuck Ramsey has told his investigators to build a "very solid" case in the Feb. 3 stabbing of Benjamin Varner. The chief also went so far as to call in the FBI for forensics assistance. The sooner police resolve these cases and provide for the public safety of Gallaudet students, the sooner the school can get back to educating them. Until then, however, no one can blame parents for feeling nervous and fearful for their children's safety.

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