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2 Student Murders Have Binghamton University on Edge

VESTAL, N.Y. — Students at Binghamton University awoke one morning last week to an alert from school officials: A freshman had been stabbed in his dormitory the night before and died. Then, minutes before classes were about to begin, another alert announced that they had been canceled for the day as the police searched for a suspect.

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2 Student Murders Have Binghamton University on Edge
, New York Times

VESTAL, N.Y. — Students at Binghamton University awoke one morning last week to an alert from school officials: A freshman had been stabbed in his dormitory the night before and died. Then, minutes before classes were about to begin, another alert announced that they had been canceled for the day as the police searched for a suspect.

The university had already been rattled by the murder of another student weeks earlier off campus, and now, a manhunt was underway. School officials stressed that neither attack was random. Still, many students living on campus locked themselves in, waiting until authorities announced hours later that the suspect, also a student, had been arrested in his dormitory.

“Nothing like this has happened before,” said Cindy Lin, a sophomore from Staten Island, who saw the swarm of police vehicles from her window the night before. “This is the place we call home. This is where I live most of the year. It was really scary.”

There were moments last week when Binghamton could pass for any college campus where students were racing toward the end of the semester. They crossed Peace Quad with friends, bemoaning the essays and exams that stood between them and the coming break, and they still played table tennis in the basement of the student union.

Yet students could also sense the anguish and concern that has pervaded the campus and interrupted the usual rhythms of college life.

On newsstands, the headline “Suspect flees after Mountainview stabbing” was splashed across the front page of The Pipe Dream, the student newspaper. Students have sought counseling or gathered to pray and share their feelings. Events like Salamander Days, a traditional competition between dorms named for the amphibians that wander from the campus’ nature preserve this time of year, have been postponed.

The university’s president, Harvey G. Stenger, described the events of the past few weeks as “definitely the hardest thing that I’ve been through since I’ve been here.”

The distress may not be overt, but it is palpable.

“If you’re an outsider and you come to Binghamton, you may not be able to see a difference,” Jermel McClure Jr., president of the university’s Student Association, said in an interview. “But if you really are in that residential community, if you really know what things are like in terms of people’s spirits being uplifted, you could tell something different is going on here.”

On March 9, Haley Anderson, a 22-year-old nursing student, was found strangled in an off-campus residence. The suspect, a fellow student who had once briefly dated her, fled to Nicaragua before her body was discovered, authorities said.

Then, on April 15, Joao Souza, a 19-year-old engineering student from Brazil, was attacked with a knife in his dormitory suite, police said. Soon after, authorities released a photograph of a suspect, with the hood of his sweatshirt shielding his face from the camera. Investigators did not disclose a motive for the attack.

Sasha Hupka was the first reporter to arrive at the dormitory that night, having dashed up the steep slope between The Pipe Dream’s newsroom and the scene. She saw blood in the hallway and heard students trying to convey to each other what had happened. She finished an article in time for the deadline for the next day’s issue, which the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, Noah Bressner, had to deliver himself because the students hired to distribute it were frightened by the manhunt.

Reporters for The Pipe Dream typically cover stories like funding for buses and a campus food co-op closing over sanitary violations — the other articles on the front page. Before this semester, Hupka, the newspaper’s news editor and a sophomore, had never reported on a murder.

“I’m not going to lie and say it’s an easy thing to cover,” she said. But, she added, “It has shown me how important my job is.”

Students described feeling starved for information as rumors spread and officials in the middle of an investigation offered few details. On social media, parents have complained about the roughly 45-minute span between the time when the stabbing was reported and the first alert issued by the university. An editorial in The Pipe Dream on Thursday assailed the university for failing to “send out information in a timely manner after the attack.”

School officials said that it was essential to strike a balance between sharing confirmed information and doing so expediently. But Stenger, the president, said the university would review the episode and its handling of it.

“You kind of learn on the fly on these things,” he told reporters after the suspect had been arrested. “We want to make sure that if anything could have been done better, especially in the communication with our community, that we learn from that.”

Binghamton University’s campus of red brick buildings cascades down a wooded hillside above the Susquehanna River. It is about 3 1/2 hours from New York City, just outside of Binghamton, New York. On a recent evening, deer grazed near a roadway as students hurried to class and played basketball outside a dormitory. Binghamton, a State University of New York campus considered one of the Northeast’s top public schools, has more than 13,000 undergraduate students. Some of them pointed out the university’s regular place at the top of “best value” college rankings as part of its appeal. Others described being drawn by its inclusive nature.

“This is not going to break our community,” said Lin, who is the student president of the school’s collection of dormitories, including Souza’s, called Mountainview College.

Hundreds of people attended the funeral for Anderson last month in Westbury, on Long Island, where she was from. The suspect, Orlando Tercero, 22, has been apprehended by authorities in Nicaragua, where he remains as officials in the United States seek to extradite him. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has sent a letter to the State Department urging that “all available levers of influence and persuasion should be employed to secure Mr. Tercero’s prompt extradition.”

In the second killing, Michael M. Roque, 20, was charged with second-degree murder last Monday evening in the death of Souza. He pleaded not guilty at an initial court appearance. His lawyer declined to comment.

Souza, a first-year student, had joined the Zeta Psi fraternity and lived in Windham Hall, a dormitory that houses many international students and athletes who might need to stay on campus during breaks. He graduated last year from Blind Brook High School in Westchester County. Danielle Goz met Souza in eighth grade. She said she remembered him struggling with English when he first arrived from Brazil. “He learned so fast,” she said, “and right away everyone just loved him.”

She recalled his “promposal,” when he asked her to the dance by surprising her while she was eating with friends. He used sushi to spell out “prom?” (She said yes.) She called him a “poster child” with good grades and athletic ability that helped him become the captain of the varsity soccer team.

“Every single person who has encountered him knows how sweet and loving he always was,” said Goz, 18. “My life will not be the same without him, but I will have to find a way to move on. He was my best friend and the best person I knew.”

Beyond mourning Souza’s death, students also expressed disquiet over how the attack had violated a “safe haven — not only for you as an individual but for ideas, discussion, thoughts,” as McClure, the student body president, described it.

“It makes you think about your interactions with the space in a much different way,” McClure said. “You feel sort of invincible,” he said of the sense of safety that had existed on campus, adding, “It is a reality check.”

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