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Family, others question Michigan college murder cover-up

YPSILANTI, Mich. — As most students at Eastern Michigan University were heading home for the holidays in December, the school put out a news release announcing that student Laura Dickinson had passed away unexpectedly in her dorm room.

There was no foul play, the school said. Staff members assured students there was no reason to worry about safety. The campus fell into mourning, with candlelight vigils for Dickinson, 22, a member of the school’s crew team.

Neither students nor her parents knew investigators had found a grisly scene in room 518 of Hill Hall. Dickinson’s body was lying on the carpeted floor. She was naked from the waist down. A pillow covered her head, and traces of semen were found on her leg.

For 10 weeks, neither her family nor fellow students knew state and campus police were investigating several suspects.

On Feb. 23, Orange Amir Taylor III, 20, a fellow Eastern Michigan student, was arrested. Only then did the university acknowledge the truth: Dickinson had been raped and killed. Her killer took her keys and locked the dorm-room door when he left.

The school’s secretiveness has left students and residents in Ypsilanti, a southwest Detroit suburb of about 22,000, shaken and outraged. For many, the bucolic Eastern Michigan campus had been violated.

The school "lied to us," said Laura’s father, Bob Dickinson. "They let us bury her thinking that a healthy 22-year-old girl died by some freak accident."

Protecting an image? School officials will not say why they remained silent. But parents and the community think administrators endangered students in an effort to protect the university’s image. An independent investigation initiated by the school’s board of regents agrees. In a report released this month, investigators with a Detroit law firm detailed how school officials violated the Jeanne Clery Act, a federal law that requires colleges and universities to disclose information about campus crimes and warn students of threats to their safety.

The report and court documents show that Eastern Michigan campus police either suspected or believed all along that the death was a homicide. Some university administration officials did not know there was a criminal investigation and unknowingly passed along misinformation, according to the report. Others made a conscious decision to not warn the public or tell the family.

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