Recent acts of violence rattle the MSU community, with off-campus students more vulnerable to crime
It’s been months since her apartment was broken into and robbed, but communication sophomore Julia Dinoto still can’t shake the uneasiness when she imagines a stranger’s hands sorting and pilfering her belongings.
One weekend last fall, Dinoto said she and her roommates left their apartment in Chandler Crossings to visit home. She returned a few days later to find the lights on and nobody there.
“Once we realized what had happened we were really freaked out,” said Dinoto, who lost an iPad, expensive jewelry and a broken iPhone 4 in the robbery. “We don’t know how they got in. The cop said it’s like they just walked right in.”
Dinoto isn’t the only victim of theft in Chandler Crossings. In October, a robber broke into a journalism junior’s apartment, leading one of his roommates through their home at gunpoint as he stole an Xbox, a phone, an iPod and a laptop. No suspects were ever identified in the case. The gunman was described as a male in his 20s. Bath Township police could not confirm whether the suspect was an MSU student.
A spokesman for Chandler Crossings said the complex intensified security measures after the incident, lengthening the shifts of security guards.
Dinoto is one of many students throughout the years who have become victims of off-campus crime in the area surrounding MSU. The transition from the dorms to off-campus life in apartments and houses has become a natural one, but police and city officials say that in the rush to move in and out, some students miss important safety issues worth considering when leaving the sheltered atmosphere of campus.
Off-campus crimes range from mild to heinous.
Two student deaths in three weeks, both of which currently are being treated as homicides, have raised fundamental questions about the safety of East Lansing and its surroundings.
East Lansing: a violent city?
One friend said Dominique Nolff would give the clothes off his back. Another said he lit up those around him.
Despite an investigation spanning several weeks and a recent arrest, many of the details surrounding the murder of hospitality business sophomore Dominique Nolff remain largely unknown.
At about 8:45 p.m. on Jan. 31, Nolff and another 20-year-old MSU student from Grand Haven, Mich., were shot in an apartment in the 200 block of Cedar Street.
Both were rushed to Sparrow Hospital in Lansing, where Nolff eventually died from multiple gunshot wounds.
The shooting was followed less than three weeks later by the death of another student, marketing sophomore and aspiring rap artist Dustyn Frolka, who was found in respiratory distress on I-69 near the East Lansing ramp.
An individual contacted police at about 10:30 that night after seeing Frolka lying in the roadway partially clothed, according to a statement from Bath Township police.
A passing motorist stopped and administered first aid before Frolka was transported to Sparrow Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Earlier that night, Frolka sent a tweet from his Twitter account implying his experimentation with psychedelic drug DMT.
“I’ve never done DMT and tonight is about to change s***,” the tweet read.
Police cannot confirm whether or not the drug caused Frolka’s death until autopsy and toxicology reports are complete.
Bath Township police Det. Sgt. Gary Smith previously told The State News that the report, which could take several weeks, will include whether or not Frolka had the drug in his system at the time of his death.
According to reports from The Detroit Free Press, Frolka was arrested for cocaine possession on Jan. 31 and kicked out of the dorms.
Despite the deaths of Nolff and Frolka, East Lansing police Capt. Jeff Murphy said East Lansing does not usually see violent crime.
“Luckily there is usually not a lot of real serious crime,” Murphy said.
Two students dying in three weeks is unusual, to be sure — but the death of two people within the same age groupK is even more rare. Despite this, Murphy said the two don’t appear to be connected.
Murphy said Bath Township police are handling the Frolka case, but the East Lansing detectives have been in contact with them about the investigation.
“The only link we saw is that they are both MSU students,” he said. “We have no reason to believe they are connected.”
Police have since arrested a suspect in connection with Nolff’s murder.
Marquay McCoy, 19, was arrested for violating parole Tuesday night in Grand Rapids and is being questioned by East Lansing police in the murder investigation.
“We have some loose ends to tie up,” Murphy said.
Another case that rocked East Lansing late last year was the slew of sexual assaults allegedly committed by Oswald Scott Wilder.
Wilder, 26, of Vernon, Mich., is accused of sexually assaulting four women, all either MSU students or alumnae, in various locations in East Lansing between March 30 and May 16 of last year.
Wilder was originally charged with one count of first-degree criminal sexual conduct, two counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct, two counts of assault with intent to commit sexual penetration and one count of gross indecency between male and female by a sexually delinquent person and is considered a habitual offender.
Court documents show Wilder will face an additional count of first-degree criminal sexual conduct and a count of unlawful imprisonment for an attack that reportedly took place on the 1100 block of Grand River Avenue.
A trial date for Wilder has not yet been set.
Murphy called the sexual assaults “an unusual circumstance” in East Lansing.
He said assaults like the ones allegedly committed by Wilder usually get people’s attention, but students and residents alike need to continue to be aware of their surroundings.
“If there is an opportunity for people to move in and commit crimes they will do it,” he said.
From the police
For many students, their years at college are the first chance they have to explore the freedom and independence of living on their own.
Although that might be invigorating for most, East Lansing police said it can create a laid-back demeanor that makes students more susceptible to crime than the average person.
“East Lansing is known as a fun town, and that’s a good thing,” Murphy said. “The only problem is, there are some criminals that that take advantage of that laid-back atmosphere.”
When students make the decision to move off campus, Murphy said it’s crucial for students to be aware of their surroundings, something other local law enforcement officials have stressed as well.
“The victims aren’t at fault, but there are things they can do to not become victims,” he said. “Criminals aren’t stupid. They target people who are intoxicated or people who are walking alone, so being aware of your surroundings is essential.”
Meridian Township is home to The Lodges, one of the newest apartment complexes that is occupied primarily by students. Meridian Township police said the key to being safe while living off-campus is to stay in groups.
“We recommend the same thing to students that we do to everyone else,” Lt. Greg Frenger of the Meridian Township Police Department said. “Lock up vehicles and apartments, be aware of your surroundings and don’t travel alone.”
Frenger said the majority of the calls the department receives involving students are the typical things— noise complaints and parking violations.
Weather also plays a factor in the number of illegal activities, so Frenger said more complaints tend to come in during bouts of more pleasant weather.
Bath Township police cover the jurisdiction of one of the biggest apartment complexes for MSU students: Chandler Crossings.
Bath Township police Sgt. Matt Mardigian said the key to living off campus safely doesn’t differ from what it takes to be a safe resident in Bath Township.
“It wouldn’t be any different than what I would tell any other citizen,” he said. “You really have to be aware of your surroundings.”
For more information
One of the biggest transitions from moving out of the protection of MSU’s campus to East Lansing is the change in status from “student” to “student-resident.” East Lansing city officials are instrumental in helping to make the transition smooth.
“This is the first time students are moving into the community, and we want to be an open and accepting community,” East Lansing Mayor Pro Tem Diane Goddeeris said. “At the same time, we understand that they are out on their own. We want to make as much information available as possible.”
Goddeeris said city government works with the Community Relations Coalition, or CRC, and ASMSU to try to make that information easily accessible.
The city of East Lansing website has a lot of information about important ordinances and things students should know regarding safety.
Goddeeris said the people who you live with is one of the most important things to consider when moving off-campus.
“The first decision is who to live with, and it should take time to decide that,” she said. “I worry students are pushed to sign too early.”
Goddeeris said the issue of early signing dates has been brought to council and ASMSU‘s attention, but there is little from a legislative standpoint council can do.
“We can’t do anything legislatively, we can encourage them (the landlords) to move the date back but we can’t force them to do it,” she said. “ASMSU has brought this issue up numerous times.”
Above all, Goddeeris said safety and having a positive off-campus living experience is understanding exactly what living on one’s own entails, especially away from the bubble of life in residence halls.
“Students need to know what they are responsible for,” she said.