Hopkins student dies of wounds

Police have no suspect in stabbing at house

Looking for link to holdup

Memorial set tomorrow at Homewood campus

April 19, 2004|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

A 20-year-old Johns Hopkins University student stabbed by an intruder at his fraternity's Charles Village apartment house after a party died yesterday evening, authorities said.

Christopher Elser, a junior from Camden, S.C., had been on life support at Maryland Shock Trauma Center. His parents and other family members had come to Baltimore to be at his side, officials said.

University officials, informed of his death, quickly announced plans for a campus memorial service. They said classes at the Homewood campus will be canceled between 10 a.m. and noon tomorrow for the service, which will start shortly after 10 a.m. and likely be held outdoors at a site to be determined.

"Nothing we say then, and nothing I can say now, will make it easy to accept and understand this tragedy," Hopkins President William R. Brody said in an e-mail sent to students, faculty and staff last night. "It is, by its very nature, unacceptable. It is beyond understanding."

Elser, a student in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, was a "kind, generous and likable young man," he wrote.

At any given time yesterday, about 30 of Elser's friends and relatives were at the hospital, standing vigil. They were allowed to spend time with him, a few at a time, said university spokesman Dennis O'Shea.

Family members told the university's chaplain, Sharon Kugler, that they "drew strength" from the visitors, O'Shea said.

Elser died at 5:50 p.m., and a short time later, his father, Kip Elser, issued a brief statement through university officials: "This is a tragic waste of a wonderful life. Christopher had already achieved so much, made so many friends and had an incredible future in front of him."

Elser, who lived in the 200 block of E. 32nd St., had gone to a party at the 10-unit apartment house rented by Sigma Alpha Epsilon at the southwest corner of St. Paul and 30th streets. He decided to stay overnight - trading his room with a fraternity brother looking for a quiet spot to study for exams, O'Shea said Saturday.

The party, which attracted as many as 200 people, broke up about 4 a.m., police said. Two hours later, an injured Elser made his way into a neighboring bedroom where a fraternity brother helped him.

Elser, who suffered stab wounds to his chest and left arm, gave only a bare-bones description of his attacker before collapsing, said Officer Nicole Monroe, a city police spokeswoman.

"It was a very vague description, and he did not describe the person as someone he knows or was familiar with," she said.

Police have said the assault appeared to be random. Investigators have not recovered the weapon used in the attack. Police declined to say whether anything was missing from the house.

Elser was apparently the only person who saw the intruder, police said.

"We never got the opportunity to speak with him. Whatever information he might have known is going to be with him forever, I guess," said Detective Vernon Parker, the primary investigator of the slaying.

With no suspect information, investigators plan to reinterview witnesses in similar crimes near the site of the attack early Saturday and take a new look at the evidence in those cases "to see if there's a link," Parker said.

The armed robbery of 10 Hopkins graduate and international students during a party in a Calvert Street rowhouse March 27 and other incidents in the area "bear some resemblance to what happened to Mr. Elser," Parker said.

While the weapon used in Elser's slaying and the robbery differed - the intruder last month used a gun - both crimes were brazen, victimized students from the same university and occurred within blocks of each other, Parker said.

At a minimum, detectives are hoping information from those interviews will lead to a suspect description, and possibly a sketch of the intruder, who is thought to have walked into the three-story building through a rear door that had been left unlocked after the fraternity party.

The attack on Elser and the robbery last month serve as reminders that the university is centered in an "urban environment," said O'Shea, the Hopkins spokesman.

"We communicate with our students all the time about the importance of awareness and taking security measures," he said.

In the robbery last month involving Hopkins students, a masked gunman walked through an open front door during a party in the 2600 block of N. Calvert and took U.S. and foreign currency, according to police. The robber threatened to kill anyone who resisted, police said.

While Hopkins students occasionally fall victim to crime, homicide is a rarity for the campus community. The last time a Hopkins student was slain was 1996, when Rex T. Chao, 19, of Port Washington, N.Y., was shot and killed by another student, Robert J. Harwood Jr. of Bradford, R.I. The men were academic rivals and it was thought that they also might have been in love with the same woman.

In March 1989, Hopkins graduate student Bridgette B. Phillips, 22, of Gainesville, Fla., was bludgeoned to death in her Charles Village apartment. The homicide remains unsolved.

Sun staff writers Lynn Anderson and Richard Irwin contributed to this article.

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