A.E.A. Student Murdered in High Profile Homicide

5 students lived together during their internships Cuiabá, Mato Grosso and worked at the Uníversidade Federal do Mato Grosso (Biolab)

5 students lived together during their internships Cuiabá, Mato Grosso and worked at the Uníversidade Federal do Mato Grosso (Biolab).
Back – Left to Right: Jason Watts, Wesley, Jorge, Danielle Klinkow (’06) Front – Left to Right Anne Fletcher, Michelle Gardner-Quinn, Late Larabee (from COA)

By Anne Fletcher and Madeline Helser

Late on the evening of October 5th, 21 year-old Michelle Gardner-Quinn went out barhopping with her friends in downtown Burlington, Vermont for a birthday celebration and never returned.

Michelle began her academic career at the University of Vermont. After being enrolled in 5 universities in the past 4 years, Michelle finally thought she had found the school for her at UVM. A senior, she majored in Latin American Studies and Environmental Science.

Michelle went on Antioch’s Brazilian Ecosystems study abroad program last fall where she became close with a group of Antioch students. At the time, she was attending American University in Washington, D.C. and in the processing of applying to transfer to UVM. According to Anne Fletcher, a fourth year student who also was on the trip, Michelle clicked well with the Antioch students, who encouraged her to transfer here.

According to police, at around 2:15 a.m., Michelle left her friends at the bar to walk back toward campus. The Police believe that her cell phone wasn’t’ working, and she stopped to use a man’s cell phone; ironically to tell her friends she was alright. A six-day search followed Michelle’s disappearance. This caught the attention of both the national and local media. Dozens of University of Vermont students searched the greater Burlington area and the surrounding countryside searching for any signs of her.

On the afternoon of Friday, October 13th police found Michelle’s body on the side of Dugway Road, after receiving a tip from a concerned resident. In a press conference on the eleventh, Burlington Police Chief Thomas Tremblay said they found her on the side of a rural road in Richmond, about 15 miles southeast of Burlington.

A suspect, identified as 36- year-old Brian Rooney of nearby Richmond, is being held on unrelated charges of sexual assault, attempted sexual assault and lewd and lascivious conduct with a child while authorities continue their probe into what they concluded was her homicide.

Anne Fletcher recalls that during the first week of orientation in Key Largo, Michelle and four Antioch students (Anne, Jason Watts, Leland Reilich, and Danielle Klinkow (’06) had a fun time drinking tequila and skinny-dipping in the lagoon they weren’t supposed to. Leland recalls, “She just had a pretty good spirit that we all related to pretty quickly. Real open and honest.? Anne remembers her as being laid back and intelligent, on top of her life and where she was headed, and very on point with her devotion to social change. “It seemed like the kids from Antioch were on a different from the kids from the other colleges in respect to our ideals and social interactions, and Michelle was a part of that,? said Anne.

For their internships during the last month of the trip, Michelle, Anne, Jay, Danielle, and Kate Larabee(a student from College of the Atlantic) all lived together in a house in the Brazilian city of Cuiabá in the heart of the Pantanal and worked at the Biology Department at the Universidade Federal do Mato Grosso. There, in that house, was where the students all connected. Anne even expected to be roommates with her some time in the future after college.

“I felt her values were real,? said Anne.

The media attention around her disappearance and death has brought a feeling of surrealism to the whole incident. Police are investigating her death as a kidnapping and murder, and have identified Brian Rooney, a 36-year-old construction worker who resides in Richmond as a suspect, said the October eleventh press release. Brian Rooney has been identified as the man seen in a video taken from a jewelry store security camera talking with Michelle at approximately 2:30 a.m. the night she disappeared. The court papers that were filed last Monday said that he denied having anything to do with the incident when police interviewed him. Judge Kathleen Manley set his bail at $150,000 until the full court proceedings take place. Rooney is pleading not guilty.

For those who knew her, the facts are still sinking in. Anne said, “It brings me back to the reality of our lives now, the beautiful people we have around us, and how much they mean in our lives. I really regret that I can never talk or organize or celebrate with Michelle again, but I am so happy to have known her and that we created the great memories that we did.? Michelle will be greatly missed by all who knew her. The world is missing a wonderful, beautiful woman, and we should grieve, but also realize the possibilities and beauty in life, in ideals, in passion, and in friends.