Idaho

Family asks UI for answers

Slain student had filed complaint against professor

The Boise family of a University of Idaho student murdered Monday called on the college to reveal how it handled complaints by Katy Benoit and other students against the assistant professor accused in the killing.

Court documents revealed that Ernesto Bustamante had threatened Benoit with a handgun several times since a romance ended in March, and that Benoit filed a complaint about Bustamante’s behavior with the university in June.

“Our family had grave concerns when we heard that the university may have received complaints from other students about Bustamante, and that Katy was the only one willing to sign her name to a complaint,” the family said in a statement Wednesday night.

“We hope that the university will be forthcoming in disclosing everything that went on this past summer in response to Bustamante’s behavior towards Katy and others, including the university’s involvement.”

The university said privacy and academic policy didn’t allow it to “provide any further information about either the existence of a relationship or actions the university may have taken with respect to these two individuals.” The statement did not address the family’s assertion that other students had had trouble with Bustamante.

At a reception Wednesday night, President Duane Nellis asked about 50 Vandal boosters and alumni to observe a moment of silence and assured them “we take students’ safety very seriously.” But Nellis declined to discuss specifics about the case, including whether the university consulted with law enforcement about Bustamante following Benoit’s complaint.

The body of Bustamante, 31, was found early Tuesday in a Moscow motel room after he apparently shot himself in the head with a revolver, police said.

Benoit, 22, was killed on the front porch of her Moscow home the night before.

Court documents Moscow police filed to obtain a search warrant for Bustamante’s room Monday night revealed details of the relationship between Bustamante and Benoit, including violent encounters described by friends and roommates. It also recounted concerns by Benoit’s roommates for her well-being because Bustamante had weapons and mental problems.

Rowdy J. Hope, described as a friend of Bustamante, said the professor alternately referred to himself as a “psychopathic killer” and “the beast” and had multiple guns and multiple personality disorders, according to the affidavit written by Moscow Police Sgt. Bruce Fager.

Fager said Bustamante was either fired or forced to resign following Benoit’s complaint. But Fager said it is unclear how the university handled the complaint because it was treated as a personnel matter and was confidential.

The university has said Bustamante resigned effective Friday, but declined to offer any specifics. One of Bustamante’s graduate students said he learned the third week of July that Bustamante was leaving the university.

Benoit’s two roommates, Meghan Walker-Smith and Emma Gregory, told police they had been baking cookies late Monday when Benoit stepped outside for a cigarette. About two minutes later they heard gunfire. Benoit was shot multiple times with a .45-caliber handgun.

“Emma Gregory went to the front door and saw that Benoit had been shot and was down,” Fager wrote. “Both Meghan Walker-Smith and Emma Gregory said they suspected Ernesto Bustamante.”

Gregory told authorities that after the breakup Benoit said Bustamante pointed a handgun at her on multiple occasions and once put a gun in her mouth, according to court records.

Prosecutors said Bustamante killed Benoit “with premeditation and with malice,” according to court documents filed Tuesday.

In their statement Wednesday, Benoit’s family said they were aware of the “behavior and rhetoric” by Bustamante that had “deeply alarmed” Katy Benoit.

“After receiving threats and intimidation from Bustamante, we believed Katy had obtained a restraining order, changed addresses and filed a complaint with the University of Idaho.”

But Latah County Prosecutor Bill Thompson said there is no evidence of a protective or restraining order filed against Bustamante anywhere in Idaho.

Before working in Idaho, Bustamante earned his bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in psychology at Old Dominion University in Virginia. He married a fellow Old Dominion graduate, Xiomy Leon, in October 2002 in Venezuela, according to a school newsletter. That union didn’t last.

The Associated Press and Lewiston Tribune contributed to this report.


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