- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 14, 2001

District of Columbia police charged a Gallaudet University freshman last night with both slayings on the Northeast campus in the past five months.
Chief Charles H. Ramsey announced that Joseph Mesa Jr., 20, of Guam was charged with two counts of felony murder. He said the police investigation revealed that robbery was the motive in the slayings of both Benjamin Varner and Eric Plunkett, who were killed in their dorm rooms.
Chief Ramsey met with University President I. King Jordan and a group of students last night before announcing the suspect's arrest to the public. Mr. Jordan said he learned the suspect's identity at the same time the students did.
"Obviously for the Gallaudet community, there's a sense of relief that someone has been taken into custody for this terrible crime. Also, there's a sense of sadness," Mr. Jordan said, referring to the fact that the suspect is a student.
Detectives had searched Krug Hall, where Mr. Mesa was living, at 2 a.m. yesterday. Friends indicated that Mr. Mesa had lived on the first floor of Cogswell Hall at the time of Mr. Plunkett's killing, but then moved to Krug. Krug Hall is next to Cogswell, the dorm in which both victims lived.
Friends of Mr. Mesa's described their reaction to his arrest as "complete shock."
Chris Kaftan, a senior at Gallaudet who attended Model Secondary School for the Deaf on the Gallaudet campus along with Mr. Mesa, said, "He wasn't that kind of person, the person who would do something like this."
Other friends of Mr. Mesa's indicated that he had attended Gallaudet last year but dropped out and returned this fall.
Mr. Kaftan said Mr. Mesa's name was never brought up in connection with the Plunkett case. Mr. Mesa had attended the vigil the school held after Mr. Plunkett's death and even rose to say a few words about how he would miss Mr. Plunkett.
Mr. Kaftan said the last time he saw Mr. Mesa was yesterday and that he was "walking around campus like normal."
"You couldn't have looked at him and known that he was a killer or anything," said Mr. Kaftan.
Mr. Varner, 19, was found stabbed to death in his room Feb. 3 after a fire alarm was sounded in the residence hall. Mr. Plunkett, 19, was found beaten to death in his room Sept. 28.
Mr. Varner's fourth-floor dorm room at the school in Northeast was splattered with blood, police said.
"This is one of the more complicated investigations I've seen in my 30 years [as a police officer]," Chief Ramsey said.
"We feel very confident in this case that we have."
Five days after Mr. Plunkett's death, police charged an 18-year-old freshman with second-degree murder but released him the next day because the U.S. Attorney's Office, citing lack of evidence, would not prosecute. Chief Ramsey said last night that all charges had been dropped against that student.
Police received many tips from students during their investigation.
"It was a complicated case," Chief Ramsey said, which included having to have interpreters during interviews with most of the deaf and hearing-impaired students.
"This was a very high-profile case, a very unusual case," Chief Ramsey said.
Mr. Mesa was born in San Francisco in 1980 and moved to Guam at the age of 3. He will be arraigned today in D.C. Superior Court.
From the outset, police believed the crime was committed by someone who had access to the campus and the dorm, which requires a magnetic swipe card to enter.
Chief Ramsey said he "never ruled out" a link between the two slayings. Both Mr. Varner and Mr. Plunkett were killed during violent struggles with their attacker. Mr. Varner was stabbed more than a dozen times and Mr. Plunkett was beaten with a chair.
Chief Ramsey said Mr. Mesa had suffered some minor but evidentiary wounds in the attack on Mr. Varner. The chief notified both students' parents of the arrest last night, as well as the family of the man initially accused in the killing of Mr. Plunkett.
WRC-TV (Channel 4) reported last night, citing an unnamed police source, that checks had been written on one of the victim's accounts payable to Mr. Mesa that were not signed by the victim.
Another unnamed Metropolitan Police Department source said that Mr. Mesa had confessed to killing Mr. Varner.
The killings shocked the close-knit community of 2,000 students at Gallaudet, which was established by Congress in 1864 as the country's only four-year liberal arts university for the deaf and hearing impaired.
The killings devastated the university campus.
Chris Soukup, president of the university's student body, said after Mr. Varner's body was found that "there is a lot of tension, a lot of stress" on the campus, adding he had confidence the police would solve the killings.
"I think the large concern right now is just not knowing. Period. I think that's the scariest thing of all, not knowing," Mr. Soukup said after the second slaying.
Chief Ramsey said investigators, including blood splatter experts from the FBI, gathered an "enormous" amount of evidence from Mr. Varner's room. Police also interviewed, with the help of interpreters, more than 100 students.
Following Mr. Varner's slaying, students said they were angry and afraid.
"Anyone is in danger right now, anyone," said Angie Geffen, 30, a third-year student from Georgia.
"Most of us were numb and confused when we found out that another student had been killed. The natural response is to be scared that you might be next."
Jonelle Deja, 25, said she wasn't scared for her safety. But Miss Deja, a Cleveland native, said she had become suspicious of all of her classmates.
"I now wonder what if this person is in my class," Miss Deja said through an interpreter. "What if this person who I just chatted with is the one who killed this student? You think about that now."
University officials increased security on campus and shut down Cogswell Hall, where both bodies were found, for the rest of the semester. Officials stepped up police patrols and asked professors and staff members to monitor residence halls at night. More outdoor cameras will be hung on buildings throughout the campus.
Officials closed all but one gate onto the campus, and a university security officer logged in each visitor's driver's license number and license plate number. Officials also have asked all students to show their student identification cards and sign a roster when entering a residence hall.
Daniel F. Drummond contributed to this report.

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