DURHAM, N.C. — Students at North Carolina Central University return to class Monday for the first time since the death of a graduate student. Meanwhile, friends and colleagues will honor her memory with an tribute in the university's student newspaper.
Authorities said Denita Monique Smith, 25, a graduate student from Charlotte, was shot to death Thursday morning. A maintenance worker found her body at the bottom of a stairwell at the Campus Crossing Apartments.
"We were all shocked when we found out," said Shelbia Brown, who worked with Smith at N.C. Central’s student newspaper, the Campus Echo. "We were devastated."
"Why? I think that’s the big question, right now. Why?" Brown said.
Durham police say they are working on answering all the questions about what happened that day. They want to talk to a woman who witnesses saw driving away from the apartment complex in a burgundy Ford Explorer at about 8:30 a.m. Thursday.
Friends have chosen to remember Smith by posting messages to a Facebook page dedicated to her memory. The Echo will honor her in its next print and online issues.
"You have to learn from it -- what’s the lesson? The lesson is when you see a human being, be kind to them because you never know when you’re going to see them again," said Dr. Bruce DePyssler, who was Smith’s adviser at the newspaper.
Smith, who had received a bachelor's degree in English from N.C. Central, had planned to wrap up her thesis this semester, university officials said. She was engaged to a Greensboro police officer.
"She really could have done anything she wanted to do. She had a very bright future," professor Thomas Evans said on Thursday. "It just sucks the air out of the room. We loved her dearly, and we're going to miss her a lot."