Gallaudet Murder Redux - Death at a University for the Deaf

Homicide Takes Life of Another Deaf Student

February 3, 2001

Not again.

This is the cry of the deaf and hard of hearing community, as word spreads of the second murder to hit Gallaudet University, a university for the deaf and hard of hearing, in less than a year.

The facts are well known about the first murder: student 19 year old Eric Plunkett, a resident of Cogswell Hall, was beaten to death and his murderer has not been found yet. In that case, another student was arrested, Thomas Minch, and released for lack of evidence.

The second victim, 19 year old Benjamin Varner, also a resident of Cogswell Hall, was stabbed to death before dawn. His body was discovered by a resident advisor checking the dorm after a fire alarm.

If ever there was a time that the power of the "deaf grapevine" was needed, this is it. Someone, somewhere in the deaf community may know something that would lead to the finding of the murderer or murderers of Varner and Plunkett.

This latest homicide really hits close to home. I did not know either Varner or Plunkett, but these young deaf men are symbolic of the boys that I knew in my deaf college years. They were guys in their late teens who were going to mature, were going to learn skills and get good-paying jobs after graduation, were going to choose partners for life, were going to know the joys and pain of deaf college life - sign language, hours of cafeteria chitchat, reading the Buff and Blue and keeping up with deaf politics, dating, love and romance, sex, parties, fraternities, failed exams and classes, and all-nighters writing term papers or computer programs.

They were going to make their friends for life - just as the friends I made in the college years are still my friends today.

Although I felt safe on both the Gallaudet and NTID campuses as a deaf college student, I did not feel totally safe. I can vaguely recall being afraid running alone late at night through the tunnels under the dormitories at RIT.

I once walked alone to the shopping plaza a few blocks from Gallaudet, and was told later by friends that it was not safe to walk there alone. Although police escorts were available on-call, one late night after an argument with a guy, I ran alone fearfully to my dorm room across campus - at three o'clock in the morning!

As a deaf college student, I thought nothing of inviting friendly students I had just met and befriended, to my dorm room to chat and get to know each other better. We all did that - our lives and our dorm rooms were open to each other as we were like a family. For many of us, our college friends WERE a substitute family, as some of us came from families where we could not communicate well with our parents and relatives or did not feel totally accepted as deaf individuals. The possibility of homicide by one of us never crossed our minds.

Now Plunkett and Varner are gone - and with their murders, the deaf college experience may have changed forever.

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