Vanessa Farrugia, a senior at EMU, shares her frustration of the violence in her apartment complex where fellow student Demarius Reed lived and was found dead. (Elizabeth Conley / The Detroit News)
Ypsilanti — Six people heard gunshots, and at least one person walked past the body of Demarius Reed last weekend. But no one called police until hours after Reed, a promising football player, died of multiple bullet wounds in the stairwell of an off-campus apartment near Eastern Michigan University.
That’s why police and university officials told students Tuesday at a campus forum that they are doing what they can to keep them safe, but students must do their part too.
“Police can’t be everywhere,” said EMU Police Chief Robert Heighes. “It’s a collaborative effort. We need the support of our community and at times the community needs to step up and share information so we can address the issue. Hearing about it hours later does no good. The sooner we can learn about it the quicker our response and potential leads can come out, and help solve that crime.”
The forum, which drew about 250 people, was held after a weekend that included two rapes and two assaults beside the slaying of Reed, a 20-year-old junior from Chicago. Officials said they planned more discussions and town hall meetings to continue the dialogue, pass on information about the crimes and educate students on how to keep themselves and peers safe on and off campus.
“This has been an extremely bizarre and unusual series of events the past few days; senseless and random acts of violence,” EMU President Susan Martin said. “I want to reassure our students our campus was safe and is safe. We’ve taken many, many measures to enhance safety on campus ... (but) this is not acceptable.”
During the forum, some students questioned university officials about what they were doing to make the campus safe, how the university was going to work harder to build partnerships with the city of Ypsilanti so students off-campus could avoid becoming victims.
Many students said they don’t feel safe, even though few crimes have occurred on campus over the past three years. The most frequent crime on campus has been burglaries — 29 were committed in 2010, a number that fell to 0 in 2012 — according to a chart of crime statistics that officials gave students at the forum.
Most of the crime categories logged zero incidents.
EMU did, however, have another student die in a homicide last December, when 23-year-old Julia Niswender was found drowned in a bathtub.
“If an athlete can be a victim of violence, I can be a victim too,” said Daryl Holman, a 21-year-old senior from Kalamazoo.
Police told students they talked to more than 30 people in their probe of the shooting of Reed — a communications major and wide receiver for the EMU Eagles — but had no suspects.
The slaying began a weekend spate of crimes affecting students on and off campus.
Later Friday, an 18-year-old EMU student was raped by an acquaintance in Putnam Hall, a freshman dorm. EMU student Michael Allen Tillmon-Cornett, 19, of Ecorse, was arraigned Tuesday on two counts of criminal sexual conduct, said Steven Hiller, Washtenaw County’s chief assistant prosecutor.
On Saturday, another 18-year-old woman was raped in the same residence hall, also by an acquaintance. Police are trying to interview the suspect, who lives in Ohio.
Also Saturday, police said a student was assaulted behind Abe’s Coney Island, an off-campus eatery, and two students were assaulted in the parking lot of Peninsular Place, off-campus apartments.
Officials said they are working to solve the crimes and be transparent in the process. “We are diligently working on this and will leave no stone unturned,” said Ypsilanti interim police Chief Tony DeGiusti.
EMU, which has about 23,000 students, is not alone in grappling with student-related crime. In July, for instance, a medical student at the University of Michigan was found shot to death in his apartment, and in January, a woman was abducted off the campus of Central Michigan University and raped.
Even so, some students like Vanessa Farrugia want to know when the violence is going to stop at EMU, and why officials are only taking action now. “Why did it take a second death (of an EMU student)?” said Farrugia, her voice choking as she spoke..
Walter Kraft, an EMU spokesman, acknowledged Farrugia’s concerns. “Clearly,” Kraft said, “we need to do more and we need to do better.”
Officials are still investigating what took place at Reed’s apartment building the night he was killed, Ypsilanti Police Detective Joe Yuhas said.
Reed had been at the Papi O’ Nightclub for a college party before his murder, Yuhas said. The party continued through the night at the University Green Apartments complex.
Police are trying to figure out who was at the apartment. “That’s what we’re having trouble with, we don’t know who was there,” Yuhas said.
Students, meanwhile, have planned a Stop The Violence march Thursday on campus.
A reward of up to $5,000 is being offered for information to help solve the case. Tips can be submitted by calling 1-800-SPEAKUP (1-800-773-2587), online at www.1800speakup.org or via text to CRIMES (274637).
Anyone who attended or knows anything about the party is asked to call Yuhas at (734) 368-8780, or Detective Annette Coppock at (734) 368-8776.
Serena Maria Daniels and Lauren Abdel-Razzaq contributed.