Editor’s Note: Updated with information from the Ypsilanti Police Department
Eastern Michigan University student Julia Catherine Niswender, 23, was found dead Tuesday night in her apartment in the Peninsular Place apartment complex, located at 1000 N. Huron River Drive in Ypsilanti. Police are treating the death as an apparent homicide.
EMU Vice President for Communications Walter Kraft said in an email no cause of death has been determined and there have been no suspects identified.
“The autopsy was completed late this afternoon,” EMU chief of police Bob Heighes said, responding to an audience question at a campus forum Wednesday. “We don’t have those results yet.”
In an email on Thursday, the Ypsilanti Police Department said that toxicology results would be available in two to three weeks, and the cause of death is still listed as “pending.”
The email also said that there were “no outward signs of trauma to the body, however there are indicators of possible foul play.”
According to an email from EMU president Susan Martin, “The police were called to Niswender’s apartment after one of her suitemates had reported not seeing her for several days.”
“Our deepest sympathy, thoughts and prayers are with Julia’s family and friends at this time,” Martin said in the email.
Niswender was studying Communication, Media and Theatre Arts, with a concentration in electronic media and film. She hailed from Monroe, Mich., was a graduate of Monroe High School and also attended Monroe County Community College. Niswender’s twin sister, Jennifer, was also a student at EMU and graduated in April 2012.
Administrators organized the campus forum to update members of the EMU community about the case.
At the forum, Martin was visibly upset, at one point even in tears, as she began her remarks.
“As a mother and a grandmother … I want to express my deepest condolences to the family of Julia Niswender,” Martin said.
“I reaffirm the strong commitment to safety at this university,” Martin said.
Also speaking at the forum, Heighes said that while the Ypsilanti police department is investigating the case, he and his team are helping where they can, and striving to keep the EMU community informed.
“Sharing this information with all of you is one of the key factors that we want to keep on doing,” Heighes said.
He also urged those in attendance to take precautions to ensure their safety.
“We ask that you be much more alert to what is going on around you,” Heighes said. “If you see something that is out of place, call us.”
Heighes said steps have been taken to increase police presence on campus, including adding extra patrols. He assured the audience the campus is safe.
Heighes said in his 29 years at EMU, there has only been one on-campus murder, and few off-campus.
EMU Student Body President Matthew Norfleet expressed his sorrow at the loss.
“The death of Julia Niswender is both tragic and painful for the EMU community. Although the circumstances of her departure are unclear, the result of her life’s works are not. I encourage my fellow students to take this time out to discover the legacy that Julia leaves behind in that of a kind, welcoming and happy presence in our campus and certainly to those considered closest to her.
“Although I did not know her personally, I will miss Julia as a member of our EMU family and the spirit by which she brought joy, comfort or understanding to so many of our peers. I ask that we extend the same privileges to Julia’s close family and friends in this time of loss. My prayers are with you all.”
The Julia Niswender Fund has been established to help the family with expenses. Donations can be made at any Monroe Bank and Trust branch, according to Jacob McLaughlin, spokesperson for the Niswender family.
Anyone with information about the crime is asked to contact Ypsilanti Police Detective Sgt. Thomas Eberts at 734-482-9878 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-SPEAKUP.
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