September 22, 2004 in City

Deaths cast pall on campus

By The Spokesman-Review
Rajah Bose photo

Brandon Tolman, 19, weeps beside a memorial to his friends and fraternity brothers, Jack Shannon and Jason Yearout, who died of injuries they sustained when their motorcycle hit a tree after jumping a railroad tie in the yard of the Delta Sigma Phi fraternity house Sunday at the University of Idaho in Moscow.
(Full-size photo)


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MOSCOW – Police are looking for witnesses, a motive and evidence, including the murder weapon, in the shooting death of University of Idaho football player Eric R. McMillan.

The 19-year-old from Murrieta, Calif., was shot at the door of his apartment Sunday shortly after 5 p.m. Police believe the killer knocked on the door and shot the student when he answered. McMillan died of his injuries at Gritman Medical Center at 4 a.m. Monday.

Brothers Matthew R. and James Wells of Seattle, 26 and 25, are being held in the Whitman County Jail facing charges of first-degree murder and felony eluding of police.

Officers are trying to piece together when the Wells brothers came to the community and what they did while there were here, said Moscow Police Chief Dan Weaver.

“We’re asking anybody to come forward with information,” he said. That includes anyone who may have seen the two African American men or their car, a white BMW, anywhere in the Moscow and Pullman communities, he said. “We’re trying to track all the movements of the Wells brothers.”

Police haven’t been able to determine if the men attended the UI-Washington State University football game in Pullman on Saturday evening.

Weaver also asked that if anyone finds anything suspicious, they bring it immediately to the Police Department. Police believe the two men fled the scene of the shooting and drove west to Pullman before getting on State Route 195 north toward Colfax. That’s where the chase with Whitman County sheriff’s deputies started.

The BMW headed west on Highway 26 out of Colfax toward Vantage, where the route connects with Interstate 90. During the chase, officers saw the men throwing objects, including a large duffel bag, from the car, but the men could have disposed of evidence anywhere along the way, Weaver said.

Armed with a general idea of where some things were thrown, search crews so far have only recovered a few items, said Weaver. It was hard to see what was thrown into the rainy night and where it landed during the chase, which reached speeds of more than 100 mph, he said. Weaver said he wasn’t able to give a description of the gun.

Although they don’t have a weapon, police are confident they have the right suspects and confident they can put together a successful prosecution, said Weaver. He credits the quick thinking of witnesses, who just minutes after the shooting provided a description of the suspects and their dark clothes as well as a license plate number. The plate and car are registered to Matthew Wells.

The investigators haven’t been able to establish any sort of connection between McMillan and the Wells brothers.

When asked if it could have been a case of mistaken identity, Weaver said he wasn’t ruling it out. “There is a possibility,” he said, “primarily because there isn’t any other possible reason for the crime.”

Weaver also said there had been a disturbance at one of Moscow’s night clubs last weekend, but the police have not been able to connect the victim or suspects to the event.

McMillan’s death was one of three tragedies to hit campus last weekend. Two other students, Jack Shannon and Jason Yearout, were killed when the motorcycle they were riding crashed into a tree. Both men were from Boise.

Yearout was pronounced dead shortly after the crash early Sunday morning. Shannon was taken to Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane, where he died Monday afternoon.

As news of the deaths spread Monday, a pall crept across campus.

“There is anger, there is disbelief, there are questions,” said UI President Tim White. “We should support each other at this time.”

The administration invited students to a meeting in the student union Monday night to talk about grieving. “We expected a small number of students,” said UI spokeswoman Kathy Barnard. “More than 200 came.”

At first, the majority of the students wouldn’t sit down, and it took a minute for the faculty to realize they were waiting for Shannon’s and Yearout’s Delta Sigma Phi fraternity brothers to arrive. Because of the size of the group, the counselors weren’t able to work with the students one-on-one. Instead, they talked in general, encouraging them to be gentle with themselves, to take their time in processing the tragedy and to help one another out, said Barnard.

And the students are mourning in their own ways.

On Sunday night, a service in memory of Yearout was held at a local church. There was also a candlelight vigil at the scene of the motorcycle crash Monday night.

A memorial service is being organized on campus for McMillan today at 7:30 p.m. in the Hartung Theater.

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