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Posted on Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 4:05 p.m.

Police: Autopsy reveals no signs of trauma, but 'foul play' possible in EMU student's death; campus beefs up security

By John Counts


Julia Niswender

Photo from Facebook

Editor's note: This article has been updated with comments from EMU Police Chief Bob Heighes.

A preliminary autopsy report released to police Thursday afternoon didn't provide investigators many more clues in the death of 23-year-old Julia Niswender.

The autopsy report from the Washtenaw County Medical Examiner lists the cause of death as "pending," according to a release from Ypsilanti police. A toxicology report, which will take two to three weeks to complete, may reveal more information as to how the Eastern Michigan University student died, the release said.

"There were no outward signs of trauma to the body; however, there are indicators of possible foul play," the release said.

Officials could not be immediately reached to determine what those indicators were. Police continue to investigate Niswender's death as a homicide, however. No more information was expected to be released on the case Thursday evening.

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Police have said Niswender, a junior studying communication, media and theater arts at EMU, was found dead in her apartment about 9:30 p.m. Tuesday in Peninsular Place apartments in the 1000 block of Huron River Drive. Police were dispatched to the address to conduct a welfare check of Niswender after family and friends had not heard from her in a couple days.

Police are following a number of leads and conducting interviews with family, friends and co-workers of Niswender.

Ypsilanti police are being assisted by the Michigan State Police and EMU Department of Public Safety.

EMU Police Chief Bob Heighes said his department received a couple of tips Thursday it passed along to the Ypsilanti Police Department.

"We've had a few people give us information," he said.

Heighes added students, who are also busy with finals, expressed safety concerns at a meeting held Wednesday night. As a result, EMU police and other campus security organizations have stepped up patrols.

"We made some adjustments in staffing," Heighes said.

Not only are there more officers on patrol, there will also be more of the school's Student Eyes and Ears for University Safety (SEEUS) escorts available later into the night.

EMU spokesman Walter Kraft said in an email to the campus community late Thursday afternoon that the university has "moved quickly to expand" its campus safety and security efforts after the forum

Here is a list of specific actions:

  • The university has extended the SEEUS walking/mobile escort service to 7 a.m. (previously ended at 3 a.m.);
  • Added additional SEEUS escort staff;
  • Designated Halle Library as a station for SEEUS walking and mobile escorts between 3 a.m. and 7 a.m.;
  • Added four additional campus security personnel in the overnight hours;
  • Added two additional officers to patrol from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. in addition to the normal shift coverage.
  • Adjusted lighting sensors to brighten exterior security lighting in the areas adjacent to Halle Library and the College of Business;
  • Adjusted the automatic timing patterns of the exterior lighting in the areas adjacent to Halle Library and the College of Business to have them turn on earlier (4:30 p.m. - 30 minutes before sunset) and to stay on later (8:30 a.m. - 30 minutes after sunrise)

Kraft also said the university has been informed by Peninsular Place apartments that it has expanded its private security presence to 24 hours daily.

Meanwhile, Niswender's twin sister, Jennifer, an EMU graduate, thanked her friends and family members on Facebook Thursday for the outpouring of support. Accompanying the post is a picture of Julia, with a caption that says "Justice for Julia." Close to 300 Facebook friends shared the picture and message with others.

"No one will ever understand what I am going through right now... but words can't describe how I feel," Jennifer wrote. "Julia was my twin, other half, and best friend. No one will ever understand the bond we shared. I love her so much and just don't know how I can go on. My beautiful sister didn't deserve this. Justice will be served even if it is the last thing I do! The rest of my life I will be living for her."

Anyone with tips regarding this case is asked to contact Ypsilanti police Sgt. Tom Eberts at (734) 482-9878 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-SPEAKUP (773-2587).

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


Chase Ingersoll

Fri, Dec 14, 2012 : 1:57 p.m.

While you can't at this point rule anything out 100%, I think some of the fear out there is due to the police not wanting to spell out where the path of evidence is presently leading them as to the cause of death when they state that there was no trauma to the body and they are waiting for toxicology reports. The point of this is that the police are not behaving as if this is a homicide by an unknown stalker of college women. Ted Bundy II is not roaming the EMU campus. Yes, this is a tragedy. Treat it as such. Be sad. But don't be fearful.


Fri, Dec 14, 2012 : noon

No signs of trauma, but initially the police called the homicide "apparent," as in clearly visible to the eye and/or "obvious". I feel like the community has been lead down a path of obfuscation and fear.


Fri, Dec 14, 2012 : 5:07 a.m.

@angry moderate, until officials release the information of there not being an armed suspect on the lose, we worry and take extra precaution.


Fri, Dec 14, 2012 : 1:10 p.m.

Why would you worry about the suspect being armed if there were no outward signs of trauma? Do you think they're armed with a scary face that frightens people to death?


Fri, Dec 14, 2012 : 4:02 a.m.

One of my daughter's went to EMU and fortunately we are from Ypsi so my daughter didn't have to live in a dorm or apartment near or on Eastern Campus. Does anyone know how many police officers Eastern has? I wish it was like U of M where every time you turn your head you see an officer. I'm sure the college has more than enough money to hire more officers.


Sat, Dec 15, 2012 : 2:04 a.m.

Some of the comments about crime rates are pretty anecdotal. Yes there are areas of Ypsilanti that are unsafe and the same can be said about Ann Arbor. I live in Ann Arbor and don't like walking home from downtown at night. Eastern has a good police department, crime is down on campus. The same can be said about U of M. This entire conversation about safety and crime and who is better or worse is a little misplaced given that a young women passed away and the cause of death is still unknown. This has become a sick conversation.


Fri, Dec 14, 2012 : 7:54 p.m.

Cmadler, those numbers a off...YPD is down to around 21 or 22 sworn, and I believe EMU is up to at least 27.

EMU Prof

Fri, Dec 14, 2012 : 3:46 p.m.

I work at Eastern but spend lots of time on the UM campus. Obviously AA is safer than Ypsi, but the UM campus is WAY sketchier than ours. I'm not criticizing UM, I think it's a wonderful instituiton, but there is an obviously criminal element (I'm guessing meth dealers and buyers, by the looks of them) that brazenly hangs out there all the time. Also I would bet if you looked at the numbers re/ sexual assault, we'd compare favorably to UM.


Fri, Dec 14, 2012 : 2:19 p.m.

From what I can find on their web sites, policing levels are as follows: Ypsi City: 30 police officers for 19,600 people in 4.5 sq mi = 1 officer per 653 people; 0.13 sq mi per officer. EMU: 21 police officers for 23,000 students in 1.25 sq mi = 1 officer per 1095 students; .04 sq mi per officer It's worth noting that Peninsular Place is on the edge of the city of Ypsilanti, near both Superior Township and Ypsilanti Township. Despite populations over 13,000 and 53,000 respectively, neither township has a police force, instead relying on patrols from the Washtenaw sheriff's office.


Fri, Dec 14, 2012 : 6:21 a.m.

I'm just trying to clarify: it's not how many officers are available, it's a ratio of cops to population and that usually means about 1 cop for every 750 in population. You probably know that it's also a matter of cost /benefit ratio: what number of cops per capita "successfully" deters crime & to what degree? There's also a jurisdictional problem here: EMU's campus is near areas with a high crime rate - you get "spill over" but in the end it's Ypsi PD which is in charge of handling those other / adjacent areas. Also: it's a mistake to focus on police protection only. People who live in wealthy neighborhoods live in "hardened" homes and often have access to additional training and support which most people think they can't afford (not entirely true). And then there's the too-casual attitude toward personal safety - the people who walk alone at night while texting or chatting on their cell phones. Such people are underprepared to BE in those circumstances (where trouble can come out of the shadows or be following them for blocks). BTW: Our daughter went to U of M, we live in Ann Arbor but she insisted that living on campus would be better for her and for us. Seeing that she WAS prepared to handle her own security (and knowing that she'd let us know about any problems in that area), we agreed and let her live on campus. The stories she told and the stories I could tell about observed misbehaviors of some of her fellow students would disabuse anyone of the notion that "more police" make much difference.


Fri, Dec 14, 2012 : 12:02 a.m.

The additional on campus security is to help protect the students and faculty on campus! This innocent woman lived close to campus! Being a student at EMU, a woman and a local resident and not knowing many details whether an armed suspect is on the lose or not is a really scary thing! I appreciate the extra patrol and security taking place. My condolences go out to this family from here on, I've been in their shoes before. Having so many unanswered questions and having a hole in your heart forever is a feeling I would never wish upon anyone!!!


Fri, Dec 14, 2012 : 5:15 a.m.

I hope this helps: procedures call for an announcement IF there's an "armed suspect" on campus. It's not particularly helpful that the absence of such announcements means there's no known armed suspects in that area. Also, notice that the only information made available so far is that "there's no evidence of trauma" on the victim's body. This strongly suggests the victim was not shot, strangled or stabbed. But it does suggest that, if this was a murder, someone knew a less obvious way to kill. Therefore, one should be alert to even non-threatening approach by anyone. And particularly: one should be very careful about admitting anyone to their private quarters. Do please read the personal protection tutorial provided to students through EMU security. There are several sound recommendations there. May you live in safety.


Fri, Dec 14, 2012 : 2:53 a.m.

alas - this incident did not occur on campus! if it (extras security) was not needed last week, before he off campus incident, it is not needed today it was simply window dressing to make it look like EMU is doing something positive extra security is always nice - but its an emotional, feel good move with no substance to the event at hand -- and I think deep down we all realize that having said that, I think EMU is doing what it can and being (beyond) open about this process

Angry Moderate

Fri, Dec 14, 2012 : 1:17 a.m.

They haven't figured out the cause of death, so it sounds like there are no gunshot wounds, stabbing wounds, etc. Where does the suspicion that there is an armed person on the loose come from?


Fri, Dec 14, 2012 : 12:44 a.m.

I also appreciate EMU's commitment to safety with the increased security personnel, additional SEEUS staff and hours, and the improved lighting on campus and the COB. My 21-year old daughter is a student at EMU, and I know that your are not alone with your feelings of being scared. I've had a heavy heart these past two days, and I send my deepest sympathy to Julia's family and friends.


Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 11:12 p.m.

these measures remind of what all the high schools did after Columbine a decade ago they put in cameras, locked the doors and used main one entrance a main entrance, had to sign in etc ... one principal told me "if you are not supposed to be here, we will know" I asked him, since all the high school shootings were committed by students who were supposed to be there, what good were the measures in increasing security? he gave me a blank stare it appears this young lady was killed in her apartment, off campus. Adding more escorts and security on campus are just feel good measures and emotional responses, done to make it seem we have control of when people decide to kill a person, in their own home. we don't have that control and we never will.


Fri, Dec 14, 2012 : 2:36 p.m.

"it appears this young lady was killed in her apartment" Huh? Appears? "Killed"? There are no signs of trauma and you're throwing around "killed." She could have had a heart attack for all we know.


Fri, Dec 14, 2012 : 4:34 a.m.

You're quite right - in order to be safer from "something" - first you have to analyze the "something" in order to secure against that particular "something." (aka "threat"). And even then, there are other somethings which should be analyzed for threat assessment and counter measure purposes. In the end, the most common threats are the ones that should be assessed. Otherwise, there's no end to the "preventive measures" one might think of adopting - with most being so improbable as to make preparation unnecessary.

Angry Moderate

Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 11:30 p.m.

Security theater makes people feel safer, just like at the airport.


Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 10:08 p.m.

I Searching for reviews of "The Hobbit" when I discovered this on the main page of The Daily Mail. Amazing that the appetite for sensationalism is such that a London tabloid would exploit the unfortunate and mysterious death of a young woman for a few hits on its website.


Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 11:10 p.m.

Youarenot.....I don't know how to do that.I just tap the pad it turns blue and then I tap the button on the right below the pad. ( that's advanced computer work for me )


Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 10:30 p.m.

I'm getting it. Try not copying that I at the beginning?


Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 10:25 p.m.

James I'm not getting any thing on your link.


Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 9:51 p.m.

Could even be natural causes, funny how the police are so tight lip on why they believe otherwise ?


Fri, Dec 14, 2012 : 2:05 p.m.

LA, "They" had nothing to do with what happened a few years ago with the murdered girl. "They" in that case was EMU PD. "They" in this case is Ypsilanti police. YPD had zero to do with the EMU murder several years ago. It scares me how many people are walking around with no idea at all about where they live, or who is responsible for what, or how things work. Anybody who can't come up with a few logical reasons why a police dept. investigating an unsolved crime wouldn't broadcast every detail of the crime scene, etc., isn't trying very hard.


Fri, Dec 14, 2012 : 5:58 a.m.

This might be the first time I've realized the error of my ways by writing to/commenting on this "reputable" news source (Ann Arbor News/, which now includes each and every yahoo's opinion on everything, relevant or ignorant). I remember seeing Julia around EMU campus and in several com classes and first off, yes funny is a majorly poor word choice, but obviously unintentional. Secondly, I wish I could have understood with how it feels to read this stuff before it was someone I knew.


Fri, Dec 14, 2012 : 5:51 a.m.

LA, If I remember correctly EMU, and the police investigators got criticized because they failed to inform the students that a deceased girl found in an EMU dorm was murdered, raped, and that the murder/rapist was still on the loose (or that there was a murderer/rapist.) At least this time they are Telling people to be careful, and giving people a sense of security.


Fri, Dec 14, 2012 : 4:38 a.m.

Let the police do their job, please.


Fri, Dec 14, 2012 : 3:48 a.m.

I think they are being so extra careful because of the way the girl a few years ago - who was murdered- was handled. They were not careful enuff then. They have learned from that episode to be extra careful. I think it is the right call to be very sure of what they declare.


Fri, Dec 14, 2012 : 1:43 a.m.

Jbk did you discuss that with Paul. I know what he ment. I was wanting to know why he thought it was so odd. But thanks for clearing that up for me. Next time I'll ask you before I post


Fri, Dec 14, 2012 : 1:28 a.m.

Jose - Paul used a poor choice of wording when he said "funny". He did not mean it in the literal sense. I am sure he meant "odd how the police.........." Lighten up. He meant no harm!


Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 10:25 p.m.

You really have no clue on how these things are handled by police do you ?


Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 9:56 p.m.

Why is that funny? It wouldn't serve anyone's interest to put out information that hasn't been confirmed.


Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 9:47 p.m.

She was so beautiful.


Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 11:01 p.m.

Thank you, music.

music to my ear

Fri, Dec 14, 2012 : 12:31 p.m.

arborani was just trying to say something nice ,one way or another she knows a life has ended ,she would have said something nice about anyone.


Fri, Dec 14, 2012 : 6:36 a.m.

Yes indeed, but if she were unattractive, would anyone still even care about her horrible, untimely death? I would hope so!

EMU Prof

Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 9:43 p.m.

We should note that homicide is not the same thing as murder. Homicide simply means the death was caused by another person. All murders are homicides, but the reverse is not true.

EMU Prof

Fri, Dec 14, 2012 : 3:42 p.m.

Brian: it does not diminish the tragedy of what happened in the least to point out the distinction. This is horrible and everyone here at Eastern is shocked and saddened. However, since many people on campus (and off) are terrified and worried about their safety and the safety of their loved ones, I think the point is relevant, or at least worth bearing in mind.


Fri, Dec 14, 2012 : 4:17 a.m.

Why do you need to make this comment? Until we find out what happened a young beautiful woman is deceased.

EMU Prof

Fri, Dec 14, 2012 : 1:32 a.m.

treetown, that's exactly what I was thinking.


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

@treetown, that is a very nice sentiment, very well put (first paragraph)


Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 9:59 p.m.

Excellent comment. I do wish comfort on her friends and family during this difficult time. Hopefully, they can get to a point where they see what she has giiven each of them, and get past the point of dwelling on her being taken from them. With respect to your comment EMU, I sure hope it doesn't end up being a "supplying a controlled substance" homicide. I am so torn by those prosecutions that have already taken place in this county.

EMU Prof

Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 9:58 p.m.

That was my point.


Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 9:57 p.m.

The police have not used the term "murder" yet. Neither should you.