A university grieves

Heaving sobs filled the air in the Burlington City Hall when three friends of Michelle Gardner-Quinn stifled their cries into each other’s shoulders as they leaned against the wall in a tight huddle. In the entrance of City Hall and outside the doors on the steps, UVM students were talking into cell phones with downcast heads, choking out words between gasps of air, tears running down their faces. “We received a telephone call that folks not related to our search had discovered the body,” Burlington police Chief Thomas Tremblay said at a press conference in the Burlington City Hall on Friday afternoon. Gardner-Quinn’s body was discovered by a group of hikers at approximately 1 p.m. Friday on Dugway Road in Richmond, Vt. The road winds along a stretch of the Huntington River, known to swimmers as “The Gorge,” and had not yet been searched, Tremblay said. On Friday afternoon at the Huntington Gorge the air was dry and cold, making the breath of the Forensics Team workers billow from their mouths as they furiously scraped at the forest floor with metal tools, meticulously combing for evidence. The announcement of Gardner-Quinn’s death came after one week of investigation following her disappearance in the early morning hours of Saturday, Oct. 7. According to Gardner-Quinn’s childhood friend and fellow UVM student Tommy Lang, Gardner-Quinn and a group of friends had been out Friday night celebrating the 21st birthday of their friend Dorsey Kilbourn. That night, Lang and Gardner-Quinn left the OP bar on North Winooski Avenue with another friend, Mike Means to go to JP’s bar on Main Street, Lang said. Gardner-Quinn left JP’s alone to meet up with Kilbourn in front of The Ski Rack outdoor gear store on Main Street. “Dorsey [Kilbourn] had her phone on vibrate, so she never heard the calls,” said Julia Martin, a friend of Gardner-Quinn who had also been out that night celebrating Kilbourn’s birthday. Lang received a call from Gardner-Quinn on a stranger’s phone at 2:15 a.m., making Lang the last person to speak to Gardner-Quinn before her disappearance. “I talked to her and I couldn’t get in touch with Dorsey, so she was like, OK, I’m just going to go back to the dorm then,” Lang said. The phone that Gardner-Quinn borrowed to call Lang was owned by Brian Rooney, 36, of Winooski, Vt. Rooney, although identified by Lang on Sunday, Oct. 8 in an interview with The Cynic, was not officially identified by the Burlington Police as a suspect until a press conference Friday afternoon. “A short time ago, Rooney was arrested and is currently in police custody on charges unrelated to the disappearance of Michelle,” Tremblay said. Rooney is being charged with sexual assault and lewd and lascivious conduct with a child. These charges were uncovered by an investigation into Rooney’s connection to Gardner-Quinn, but the charges are not related to Gardner-Quinn’s death, Tremblay said. According to Essex County court records, Rooney was named in a bank foreclosure action in 2000 that involved property owned by him and his ex-wife in Gilman, Vt. According to records in the Burlington Vermont District Court, Rooney was charged with at least four counts of driving while his license was suspended. The most recent of these charges was in 2002, when he was also charged with disorderly conduct by traffic. Rooney was found guilty in both of the 2002 charges. Tremblay said last Saturday that he was sure that Rooney was the right man for the sexual assault and lewd and lascivious with a child charges brought against him. Rooney will be arraigned on Monday, Oct. 16 in the Caledonia County District Court, on Main Street in St. Johnsbury, Vt. Gardner-Quinn’s disappearance was made public to the University on Sunday, Oct. 8 when UVM Police Services sent out a mass e-mail notifying students of the safety alert. A week of investigation followed Gardner-Quinn’s disappearance, with official leads including Rooney and another white man in his 20s, described as six feet tall with blond hair and one disproportionately large nostril, according to police reports. The blond man was reported to have yelled at a woman from his white Subaru-like car at 2:35 a.m. Sunday morning. The blond man asked the walking woman to get into the car, according to police reports. On Tuesday, the Burlington Police Department released a statement saying that they “have received a number of helpful leads that have sent the investigation in a specific direction.” That Tuesday the Burlington Police Department used a K-9 team to search a house in Richmond, Vt. that is connected to Rooney. The search of that property did not produce any new evidence, Tremblay said. Beginning on Wednesday morning, Gardner-Quinn’s brother and other UVM students organized search teams that scoured Burlington for clues into the disappearance of Gardner-Quinn. On Thursday, images obtained from a Main Street jewelry store security camera were released to the public, showing Gardner-Quinn and Rooney walking up Main Street in Burlington at 2:34 a.m. the previous Saturday morning. Search teams began to fan out more on Thursday, searching many new locations, including the Route 15 corridor and also Oakledge Park and North Beach in Burlington, according to police reports. On Friday morning, the Burlington Police Department said that they had obtained Rooney’s red Jeep Grand Cherokee and were searching for any new leads into the whereabouts of that Jeep between 2:34 a.m. Saturday and the following Monday morning. Friday afternoon Burlington police searched a house on the corner of South Union Street and Spruce Street in Burlington. Rooney is a construction worker and may be connected to renovation of that house, Tremblay said. “I guess this guy Brian [Rooney] had his car parked on South Union,” Lang said. Burlington police brought in a bulldozer to excavate the property around the house on South Union and Spruce. No evidence was discovered from that search, Tremblay said. That same Friday afternoon Gardner-Quinn’s body was discovered at the Huntington Gorge and Rooney was arrested for sexual crimes that are unrelated to Gardner-Quinn’s death and that occurred before her disappearance, Tremblay said. “Officers are working between 12- and 17-hour shifts,” said Burlington police Lieutenant Kathleen Stubbing last Thursday night at a community safety forum held in the Ira Allen Chapel at UVM. “We have to order officers to go home,” Tremblay said at the safety forum. “The investigation takes a significant turn now, it is almost like a new investigation starts,” Tremblay said last Friday afternoon. “We are not done yet.”