Body in dorm’s locked utility room ID’d
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) — A body found slumped over machinery in a dormitory’s locked, high-voltage utility room was identified Tuesday as a 19-year-old Purdue University student who vanished in January, school officials said.
A maintenance worker investigating a “pinging” sound on Monday discovered the body of Wade Steffey, a freshman who was last seen in the area Jan. 13 after he left a fraternity party.
The Tippecanoe County coroner identified the body Tuesday.
Steffey was fatally shocked when he entered the utility room, apparently while trying to get into the Owen Hall dormitory to retrieve his coat, Purdue spokeswoman Jeanne Norberg said. It appeared that he tripped and fell onto a power transformer, she said.
“He is believed to have died instantly,” she said.
The area around Owen Hall had been repeatedly searched after Steffey was reported missing, and maintenance staff had opened the utility room, but Norberg said they didn’t fully inspect the interior because of the risk posed by the high-voltage equipment.
On Monday, a worker unlocked the door leading to the utility room’s interior and found the student’s body slumped over a piece of machinery, Norberg said.
“The utility worker went in and found a body in this room,” Norberg said. “She was traumatized. It’s a very difficult situation for her.”
Power was cut to the residence hall while the body was removed from what Norberg described as a transformer room filled with high-voltage connections.
The ground-level utility room isn’t accessible from Owen Hall, and it’s locked with two sets of keys, one each for two sets of doors, she said. It wasn’t clear how Steffey was able to get in or when the doors were locked behind him.
“We have the answer now, the big answer, to where our son is,” said Steffey’s mother, Dawn Adams, who said she and her husband had felt before the body’s discovery that their son was dead.
“Now everyone who was praying for us can have a measure of peace,” she said. “This affects so many more people than us. Now there is grief.”
Campus officials had organized several searches for Steffey, the most recent a ground search in the area on Sunday. Anna Hirst, an area resident who helped with the searches, described the community’s emotion on hearing the news.
“It’s absolutely devastating,” she said.
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