Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Gallaudet Murders

Sudden Danger

Gallaudet University
Gallaudet University

Several students at the renowned Gallaudet University for the deaf and hearing impaired in northeast Washington, D.C. noticed one Thursday that Eric Plunkett's door in Cogswell Hall was closed. When it remained that way all day on September 28, 2000, some grew concerned. Those who knew the nineteen-year-old gregarious boy from Minnesota realized how unusual this behavior was. Eric liked to keep his door open so he could see who was walking by. He'd often invite others into his first-floor west wing room and let them borrow freely from his music or video collection.

Eric Plunkett
Eric Plunkett

In fact, says Manny Fernandez in the Washington Post, during the academic orientation in August, Eric had joined other young men from his dorm Thomas Minch, Joseph Mesa Jr., and Benjamin Varner among them at a campus café. Communicating in sign language, they all agreed to call their wing the Wild, Wild West. They had joined hands that evening in solidarity and the anticipation of friendship at their new school. All were happy to be there. All had great ambitions a chef, an accountant, an attorney, an advocate for improving the world for the deaf and each was about to have those ambitions dashed in a terrible way.

When Eric failed to show up for dinner that evening, the student across the hall, Joseph Mesa Jr., told resident advisor Thomas Koch that he smelled a bad odor coming from the closed room. Around 8:00 P.M., Koch went to see for himself but detected nothing unusual. Still, Eric had cerebral palsy and it was possible he was ill or had fallen. When Koch tried the knob and found the door locked, he used a master key to enter. The room was too dark to see anything, so he switched on the light.

In front of him, amid videogames, books, and taped-up pictures of a happy family, Eric lay on the floor. When Koch ventured closer, he saw bruises on Eric's face, as if he'd been bludgeoned. The boy did not move, so Koch retreated and notified school officials. As improbable as it seemed at a school where most students treated one another like family, it appeared that Eric Plunkett had been murdered.


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