Police say guns, meds on murder-suicide professor

AP News
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Posted: Aug 26, 2011 6:54 PM
Police say guns, meds on murder-suicide professor

A former Idaho professor who killed himself after gunning down a graduate student he had recently dated was found dead in his hotel room with six guns and medications for bipolar disorder and severe anxiety, police said.

The confirmation of reports that Ernesto Bustamante, 31, suffered from mental disorders and owned a stockpile of weapons was among the new details that emerged with the release Friday of a pair of statements, one from police and the other from university officials, offering the results of investigations into the case.

Katy Benoit, 22, was shot 11 times with a .45 caliber handgun outside her northern Idaho home late Monday. Benoit's romantic relationship with the University of Idaho professor had recently ended after he displayed violent tendencies, including threatening her life multiple times, police said.

Benoit met Bustamante last fall when she took a psychology course he was teaching, and by the end of the semester they were dating. The relationship ended in May, after he put a gun to her head and told her how he would use it to kill her. She told others he had threatened her with a gun twice before.

Bustamante had been known to alternately refer to himself as a "psychopathic killer" and "the beast," according to police. After the couple split, Benoit alerted school officials that she was becoming increasing concerned for her safety and filed a sexual harassment complaint with the university on June 12. Bustamante denied the allegations and filed his own complaint against her on July 8, claiming defamation of character.

School officials had contact with Benoit more than a dozen times to discuss the situation and urge her to take safety precautions. The final meeting came Monday, the same day police say Bustamante shot her nearly a dozen times on the back porch of her Moscow home.

Benoit's roommates, Meghan Walker-Smith and Emma Gregory, were inside baking cookies and heard the shots. Gregory ran outside to find Benoit covered in blood. The roommates fled the home and called 911 from the car, telling a dispatcher that they could only think of one person who could have fired the shots _ Bustamante.

They said he had recently been forced to resign from the university as a result of a Benoit's complaints and said that was the only reason they could imagine that their friend had been killed.

The university has confirmed only that Bustamante resigned effective last Friday. Police said Bustamante was in the process of moving to New Jersey, where he had secured another job.

Less than an hour after killing Benoit, Bustamante checked into a hotel room and shot himself in the head with a revolver, police said. Authorities later found five other handguns, along with the revolver, in the room, as well as four different prescription medications used to treat severe anxiety, epilepsy, depression and bipolar disorder. Bustamante's name was printed on all of the prescription bottles.

In the wake of the murder-suicide, Bustamante's family extended condolences to Benoit's relatives Thursday, saying that while they did not know her "our thoughts and prayers are with Katy's family and friends."

Benoit's family issued a new statement Friday offering their own condolences. "We are deeply grateful for all of the thoughts and prayers that Katy and our family have received. We appreciate the condolences from the Bustamante family and offer our condolences to the Bustamante family, as well. This is a difficult time for everyone," the family said.

University officials maintain that they followed all proper procedures, including notifying police and urging Benoit to alert authorities, as well.

Police received a call from Benoit on June 10 after the university referred her to address safety concerns.

Moscow Police Lt. Dave Lehmitz said he advised Benoit of basic safety principles and told her to call back if there were any threatening or suspicious incidents. Two days later, the university says Benoit emailed school officials to say she did not want Bustamante served with her complaint and wanted to discuss it further.

The university says Benoit was told on July 6 her complaint had been sent to Bustamante and he had been told to stay away from her. The school contacted police on July 14 concerning reports of inappropriate behavior by Bustamante toward Benoit, Lehmitz said.

Several attempts by law enforcement to later contact Benoit were unsuccessful and the university informed the Moscow Police Department that she did not want the agency involved, Lehmitz said.

The university hired Bustamante in 2007 and he was an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology and Communication. Benoit had earned her undergraduate degree from the university in 2010 and had just started her graduate studies in the psychology department.

The university is asking state courts to determine whether it can release Bustamante's employment records.

The school's steps, detailed in the statement released Friday, appear to be consistent with university policy. Still, University of Idaho President Duane Nellis said he's ordered an independent review of those policies and procedures to make sure they meet the highest safety and security standards.

"Our hearts and prayers go out to the family of Katy Benoit," Nellis said. "We understand their desire to have a full accounting of the circumstances that led to Katy's death. I intend to do everything I can to answer their questions. A tragedy has occurred and we all want answers."

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Associated Press writer Rebecca Boone in Boise also contributed to this story.