August 24, 2011 in City

Former UI professor found dead at motel

Police suspect he killed grad student
Jessie L. Bonner Associated Press
 

A Moscow police officer uses a video camera in a room rented by Ernesto Bustamante at the Best Western in Moscow, Idaho, on Tuesday.
(Full-size photo)

A University of Idaho graduate student who was gunned down outside her off-campus residence and a former professor at the Moscow school suspected in her murder may have previously had a relationship, police said Tuesday.

Ernesto A. Bustamante, 31, checked into a Moscow inn less than an hour after the shooting, police Lt. Dave Lehmitz said. His body was found early Tuesday with a gunshot wound to the head after he apparently took his own life, Lehmitz said.

A warrant had been issued for Bustamante’s arrest after officers found Katy Benoit, 22, dead at her Moscow home late Monday. The woman, who is from Boise, was shot multiple times with a .45-caliber handgun outside her home while her roommate was inside, Lehmitz said.

“It appears that the victim and suspect were known to each other and may have had previously a relationship,” Lehmitz said.

Bustamante was an assistant professor in the university’s department of psychology and communication, earning a base salary of $51,000 a year, when he resigned his position with the school on Friday. He had been with the school since August 2007.

Benoit earned her undergraduate degree in 2010 and was a graduate student in the psychology department, according to the university.

In a statement, UI President Duane Nellis said the university was “shocked and saddened” by the violence.

“We value all of our students and seek to give them the best in education in the safest environment possible,” he said. “Sadly, there is no way to protect them against everything.”

Classes started on campus on Monday. A ceremony to mark the start of the academic year was postponed Tuesday.

While police could not confirm the nature of the relationship between the two, Nellis in his statement said “this tragedy may have stemmed from relationship issues.”

UI Dean of Students Bruce Pitman noted there is a university policy that bars faculty members from entering into romantic relationships with students.

Pittman declined to comment on why Bustamante resigned last week.

Authorities named Bustamante as a suspect shortly after the shooting and served a search warrant at the Best Western Plus University Inn, where police found Bustamante’s car. The body was found inside his hotel room.

Bustamante had no prior criminal record in Idaho. Court documents show a few traffic violations in Latah County, where the university is based.

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