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Posted on Wed, Dec 12, 2012 : 6:10 p.m.

EMU community asks for answers following student's death

By Kyle Feldscher


Friends and classmates of Julia Niswender attended a forum on campus security at Eastern Michigan University student center Wednesday afternoon.

Courtney Sacco I

Eastern Michigan University community members didn’t get many of the answers they’d hoped to get at a campus safety meeting Wednesday following the apparent homicide of Julia Niswender.

University officials organized the meeting in the EMU Student Center’s auditorium Wednesday afternoon, less than 24 hours after Niswender was found dead in her apartment. According to police, she hadn’t been seen for several days before one of her suitemates asked officers check on her at 9:30 pm. Tuesday.

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Ypsilanti police Detective Sgt. Thomas Eberts said police found evidence he called “suspicious” and led to “unanswered questions,” causing police to call Niswender’s death an apparent homicide. At the campus safety meeting Wednesday, EMU Police Chief Bob Heighes was tasked with explaining to the approximately 200 members of the community why he couldn’t release that information.

“This is an Ypsilanti police case, not an EMU Police case,” Heighes said. “We are assisting them wherever and whenever we can with information involving our student. A lot of things we don’t have information on because it’s not our case.”


EMU police Chief Bob Heighes speaks to the campus community.

Courtney Sacco |

Heighes told the crowd what he knew: Niswender’s suitemate called police at 9:30 p.m. Tuesday after not seeing her for a few days. When police arrived, they found her dead in her bedroom and began their investigation. In the morning, Ypsilanti investigators told EMU Police they were calling Niswender’s death an apparent homicide before releasing that information to the public.

An autopsy on Niswender’s body was done Wednesday and completed in the afternoon, Heighes said. However, the results of the autopsy were not available at Wednesday’s meeting and Heighes was not able to provide a timeline on when more information would be available.

No representatives from the Ypsilanti Police Department were at the meeting Wednesday. EMU spokesman Geoff Larcom said the university held the meeting to show what they were doing in their response to Niswender’s death, provide safety tips and counseling services and to express their condolences to Niswender's friends and family on behalf of the university, and the Ypsilanti police were not asked to be in attendance.

University President Susan Martin made some brief remarks, extending her sympathies to Niswender’s friends and family. Martin immediately became choked up during the beginning of her comments.


University President Susan Martin address students about the death of Julia Niswender.

Courtney Sacco |

She said Heighes called her in the middle of the night after he was told of Niswender’s death. Martin said she immediately woke up and began contacting top administrators at the university, most of whom had been working through the night.

“Our job is to communicate directly to you what we know and what we don’t know,” she said.

When he spoke to Wednesday afternoon, Eberts said many questions had to go unanswered because police are protecting their investigation. He wouldn’t say if police found evidence of violence at the apartment when they arrived or what kind of evidence led police to believe a homicide took place.

Students at the meeting at EMU asked Heighes if police have a suspect in mind, if the person who is believed to have killed Niswender was armed and dangerous. Heighes sounded apologetic as he was unable to answer.

“I don’t have any other details other than what I shared,” he said.

Heighes did pass along safety tips to students, asking them to not wear headphones while walking on campus, walk with a partner, call police if they see something suspicious and to call authorities if they get any unsolicited visitors. EMU officials also said they're adding extra police patrols.

Many students expressed concern with the on-campus student escort service that allows students walking around late at night to have someone walking with them for safety.

Among the concerns were the escort service sometimes doesn't come, ends at 3 a.m. and won't accompany students to off-campus housing.

Officials also encouraged any students in need of counseling to seek out the professionals at EMU’s Snow Health Center.

Lisa Lauterbach, director of the university’s Counseling and Psychiatric Services, said she spent most of the day talking to students and staff members about Niswender’s death. She said the counselors at the Snow Health Center are available for free from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

“People are feeling unsettled, some people are feeling unsafe,” she said. “It’s scary to think this kind of thing can happen in our community.”

Officials said any more information about Niswender’s death would first come from the Ypsilanti police before being sent to the university community.

Anyone with information on Niswender’s death is encouraged to call Eberts at 734-482-9878 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-SPEAKUP (773-2587).

Kyle Feldscher covers cops and courts for He can be reached at or you can follow him on Twitter.



Fri, Dec 14, 2012 : 12:17 a.m.

the police have to be very careful what they say and do and that's exactly what they are amount of security can prevent this from happening and it amps up only after a tragedy like this occurs. these crimes occur all to often these days..

Mary K

Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 8:25 p.m.

I'm disappointed with the message the EMU Police Dept is giving to students. It feels like we (the public, students, faculty members, etc.) are being asked to change our habits, our behaviors, our lives in order to accommodate criminals in our community. I wish more pressure was put onto the criminal groups in our neighborhoods. I would like to see stronger statements about consequences of crime and addressing criminal culture on our campus and in the greater community. I don't think the EMU PD meant these comments to come across as blaming victims, but as an audience member it definitely began to feel that way. Students get so many e-mails about being aware and locking doors and calling SEEUS but no one is talking about addressing criminals themselves and breaking criminal habits or stopping crime before it starts.


Fri, Dec 14, 2012 : 7:13 a.m.

The first city police services were established in Philadelphia in 1751- So what exactly do you think police have been trying to do since then?? You seem to be fixated on this idea that any suggestion you IMPROVE your own security is "blaming" - it's just pointing out that too many people haven't done enough to protect themselves. If you're so BOTHERED by these CONSTANT recommendations, then maybe you ought to consider the CAUSE (which is exactly the problem with people depending on government to protect them while denying personal responsibility). Try a little analytical thinking: it's not the victim's fault that she may have let someone in she shouldn't have - but suggesting caution about letting people into your room or house is a legitimate suggestion for the REST of the subject population (i.e. EMU students). It's called learning from this tragic example - supposing it was a murder. College is a transitional state: adult age students are supposed to be learning how to BE adults. It's not all job related: it involves developing judgement and other faculties which (everyone knows) have NOT yet developed in college students. You used "accommodate" inappropriately: the security measures recommended to you aren't "accommodating" criminals but ARE intended to THWART OR COUNTER criminals. You've taken on two premises which are incorrect (1) cops are the only safe guards and (2) self protection is "accommodating" criminals. Taking responsibility for your own safety is inconvenient: that's what you're really protesting, isn't it? Being an adult is "inconvenient" - it's more about responsibility than it is freedom to do whatever you like. Stopping crime before it starts isn't simple either: if cops stopped everyone they thought "might" commit a crime - that would be unconstitutional. You can enlighten the rest of us (in a major way) by giving us YOUR plan. How would you stop coed killings?

EMU Prof

Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 6:47 p.m.

One may also want to note that 'homicide' means death at the hands of another person, not necessarily murder. All murders are homicides, but the reverse is not true. So who knows what they found in that room. Awful.


Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 6:22 p.m.

Yesterday I had watched the T.V. news and the parents of Julia had shared their sense of grief with the community of viewers. The sense of loss is profound and they have no clue. Apparently, there was no forced entry into her bedroom, and there was no noise or disturbance that could attract the attention of others in the building. I am sure that the results of the autopsy examination would be shared and it may help us to know the basis for suspicion of homicide in this very unfortunate death of a young college student.


Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 5:42 p.m.

EMU needs to do a better job of ratcheting down expectations, not fanning the flames of people who have unrealistic ideas about crime investigations, especially since it's not even their case. I understand they have students who are concerned, but I agree with SonnyDog09; what's the point of calling everyone into a big meeting and then telling them nothing? The Cleary act requires that people be notified. It doesn't require inciting mass anxiety. It could be weeks, months, or even years before anybody has any idea who was involved in what happened to this girl. The idea that every crime scene provides some kind of bread-crumb trail directly to the suspect is a TV fantasy. It's also very possible nobody knows anything yet. People need to get used to the idea that life is not controllable or predictable, and all they can do is make good choices on a daily basis and hope for the best.


Fri, Dec 14, 2012 : 6:45 a.m.

I don't see how you or anyone can characterize what EMU security / admin did as "inciting mass anxiety." First of all: the real presumption is that adults have some capacity for providing for their own safety and responsibility for that as well. Adults are not helpless and no mature person expects comprehensive statements from officials who themselves are trying to find answers. We've had cops in the family over the years (1 shot and unable to continue on the job, the other simply using the position to transition to another job - fire fighter). From them and other cops, I get a different picture of what takes place when police examine a crime scene. For example: note that the victim was killed in her own room (one of several sharing a common room) which has a lockable door. Also note that they've found no evidence of physical trauma - which suggests at least one of two things (neither of them indicating the action of a crazed, roaming gunman). The cops CERTAINLY know more than they're tell us - that's also standard cop procedure. They WLL NOT for example mention whether the victim was clothed or unclothed, whether clothes (if any) were in disarray, etc. What the "cops" HAVE SAID is all about ways for other students (etc) to keep their own safety in mind, to follow THE SUGGESTIONS made available through web links. It is ODD that a few people think these things mean nothing and instead continue insisting that the cops "do something." This time (and all times) personal safety IS PERSONAL - up to those who have become concerned.


Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 5:32 p.m.

People - please take a deep breath and think for a moment. If there was any chance that law enforcement officials thought that there was an inherent and immediate danger to those around the campus area and beyond, don't you think that there would be much more of a public response to warn the community that a killer was on the loose and that he (most likely) was armed and dangerous. Let the cops do their jobs and have some faith that they are getting to the bottom of this tragedy. This may be, understandably, hard considering how badly a similar tragedy was handled by the university and by investigors a few years back, but please let the details emerge and let the family greive.


Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 5:44 p.m.

The incident you refer to involved EMU PD and "investigators,", not Ypsilanti Police. They are two completely different organizations.


Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 3:32 p.m.

This is such a tragedy. I am glad to see that EMU is handeling this in an ethical way, following the Cleary Act. They seem to have learned from the last tragic homicide.

Atticus F.

Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 2:49 p.m.

My girlfriend is a student at Eastern, I'm very concerned for her safety, and I believe we have a right to know if somebody is targeting women on campus. This is way too little information being submitted by the Police department... Especially if other women might be in danger.

Mary K

Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 8:30 p.m.

They probably haven't released information because they don't have any yet. Criminal investigations are like puzzles, when you first pour out the box the pieces are everywhere and you don't know what the picture is. It takes time to put together all the pieces of someone's life. At this point, they probably only have the pieces. Their concern is always going to be the safety of the community, that's why they are part of YPD in the first place and put their lives on the line every day. I trust they will show us what parts of the picture they've put together when they have actually gotten that far.

EMU Prof

Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 4:27 p.m.

Yes, the powers that be remember that and have learned their lesson (hence the forum yesterday). This is being handled very differently, by an altogether different president and administration. Also note that this is YPD, not our police (not that our police wouldn't do a great job. They're an excellent force as well.)

Atticus F.

Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 3:45 p.m.

EMU Prof:


Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 3:23 p.m.

1 attack/murder would not dictate a pattern of targeting woman. There needs to be a trend. 1 occurance is not a trend. Don't even need to watch criminal minds to know that... Tell your gf to walk in groups of at least 2 or more. That's a start.

EMU Prof

Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 3:18 p.m.

Atticus: a very understandable concern. And while I could be wrong, I think that if they believed that, they'd let us all know. YPD is held in very high regard and I trust them to handle this the right way.


Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 2:16 p.m.

First - this is terrible and my heart and prayers go out for everyone involved. Second - this is a newly discovered crime. Nobody is going to have instant answers. EMU and Ypsilanti police have a good working relationship but they are separate organizations. Ypsi Police have proven over the years to be very effective. Third - That area seems to be getting a significant up-tick in crime generally. Whats going on?


Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 1:48 p.m.

EMU needs to dust off their "PR 101" notes and recognize that having a public meeting where you do not provide information to the public is worse than not having a meeting at all.

EMU Prof

Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 6:43 p.m.

Yeah, but they thing is they'd sent numerous emails with the exact same information. And having the chief of police warn everyone to watch themselves made people more, not less, nervous. Mainly the point of the meeting seemed to be to make sure they were seen as being straightforward and forthcoming with us (they spent a lot of time talking about the notifications they sent and when). I'm not being cynical here, I understand why they did it, but still I'm not convinced it was a good idea.


Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 5:45 p.m.

Why dust off "PR 101" when they are acing "PR 404". When they are not responsible for leading the investigation but involved and doing everything they can, letting the public know what they know is a great move. Yeah, not a lot of information, but some basics to say "We are working with YPD to ensure this doesn't happen again and to keep the greater community safe" is the best they can do. Thanks for breaking the silence EMU

EMU Prof

Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 3:15 p.m.



Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 11:34 a.m.

Clearly the Eastern community is upset and frantic for answers in this case. This also impacts their own personal security on campus until the facts are known. EMU is pursuing the correct course of action by reassuring the student body that the professional investigators are now in charge of the matter outside of their control. If a student likewise calls for help at the University of Michigan it is not as clear which security organization answers and who is in control of the subsequent investigation. That is unacceptable.


Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 3:16 p.m.

If someone calls 911 on UM campus to report a missing room mate. Who is going to answer that call, then respond accordingly, and investigate? Housing Security? DPS? AAPD? UM Legal Affairs Department? Response time, evidence collection/preservation, and witness information can be critical towards resolving a "potential" crime and further keeping the community secure. We have recently read about a number of cases where the UM "potential" crime solving policy has not worked very well. The Ann Arbor Police Department with sufficient funding should be the only answer. EMU is doing this one correctly.


Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 1:49 p.m.

Whenever I call the U-M Police, I'm always know what organization answers. I don't know who you or the "student" are calling.


Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 4:16 a.m.

I was in class last night on campus and left around 8pm. Dark and cold outside... little did we know that this poor girl would be found murdered hours later, and it seems she has been dead for a while. I think I'll skip going to the library tomorrow night and stay home and study.


Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 7:55 a.m.

@Spirit Most men don't, some do, as well as some woman. In fact, what makes you assume the assailant was a man?

kindred spirit

Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 6:51 a.m.

brian, simone66 is likely a female. These ideas run through female's heads. At times curtailing our activities is a prison we females end up enduring because the night has not yet been taken back. Why do men have this seeming need to control other people through violence?


Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 4:35 a.m.

You can't stop doing what you need to do. YPD is on the case and will bring justice. Just think and be safe. Do what you need to do with a group of people.

Kyle Mattson

Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 3:53 a.m.

If anyone is interested, Eastern has made a video of the forum available for viewing online here:


Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 3:46 a.m.

Let YPD do their job, they are on of the finest departments around and will do justice for the family. My heart and prayers to the family.


Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 3:13 a.m.

this is chilling special if you think of the co-ed killing of john Norman Collins being in same area in 68. supernatural .


Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 4:07 p.m.

I thought speculation (like the comment above ^^^) got your comment removed on this forum?


Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 2:06 a.m.

Shout out to the Ypsilanti Police and EMU Safety Departments. Cross your T's and dot your I's and put this one away forever.

Robert Jenkins

Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 1:58 a.m.

This is bad news. I hope she knew the attacker only because that would make it less likely that others are in danger. I will be thinking of this girl and her family. How sad.


Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 3:15 a.m.

yes lets hope ! we dont want another Collins.


Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 1:42 a.m.

This is horrifying. How do they expect us students to just go on with our regular school schedules with a possible murderer on the lose? Was it a gun, knife, choke, break in? We know nothing but they expect us to walk around campus feeling safe. We all have a hundred new questions and no gosh darn answers.. Give us answers!! There is a killer on the lose!


Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 3:18 p.m.

Spend some time outside the U.S. 99% of the world doesn't live like we do hear and get to enjoy a "safe" culture. How do we all still operate? Don't live in fear. If you change what you do, then the suspect has infact changed your behavior. Was Columbine closed for the rest of the year after that tragedy happened? Police cannot give away too much information for an ongoing investigation. It can compromise their work. Understood?


Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 1:47 p.m.

Sorry to tell you this, but there are killers on the loose all the time. Most likely they're not going to kill you, but one should always be aware of the situation in which they find themselves.


Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 1:39 a.m.

If the police aren't releasing details to the public or press, I imagine either they have no clue who the alleged killer is, or they know exactly who did it and don't want to tip their hat. The statistical likelihood is that the victim knew the person who killed her. Only 14% of murder victims did not know their killers.


Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 3:11 p.m.

I totally agree Skyjockey. The insensitivity of some people is incredible.


Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 1:07 p.m.

JBK this is hardly a situation that calls for levity. Not even remotely funny

Honest Abe

Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 1:01 a.m.

This is awful and sad news. The Police need to release what they can, so the public can help out, of possible.


Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 2:46 a.m.

Abe - The problem is that the police CANNOT release eveything they know. It may be relevant to the investigation and if they release it, it may compromise the case.


Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 12:40 a.m.

Obviously the sooner the police figure out if this was random or if the poor girl knew her attacker/killer, the better. How someone could have done this is beyond me--life is not fair sometimes...