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Vigil honors slain UI student

Hundreds of students, staff and friends gathered Thursday in Friendship Square in downtown Moscow, Idaho, to honor slain University of Idaho grad student Katy Benoit. (Christopher Anderson)
Hundreds of students, staff and friends gathered Thursday in Friendship Square in downtown Moscow, Idaho, to honor slain University of Idaho grad student Katy Benoit. (Christopher Anderson)

MOSCOW, Idaho – They stood awkwardly at first, wearing summer dresses and flip-flops and holding candles. Eventually, stories and tears began to flow as friends honored the short life of Kathryn “Katy” Benoit.

Friend Lydia Maylott organized Thursday’s vigil. She said she’s corresponded with friends and well-wishers from as far away as New Zealand and England who wanted to honor the 22-year-old graduate student from Boise who was killed Monday by a man police say was University of Idaho professor Ernesto Bustamante, Benoit’s former lover.

“She was goofy,” Maylott said of Benoit. “She was just a kid but she had an amazing soul.”

Maylott worked with Benoit and Bustamante in a research group. On July 12, Benoit confided in Maylott about her previous intimate relationship with Bustamante and the threats he was making.

“She wanted help filing a complaint” with university officials, who have not revealed the nature of that correspondence.

Most of the comments centered on Benoit’s goofy laugh and her easy way with people. 

Diane Robertson said Benoit was her first roommate in college. “I thought she was the weirdest person in the world,” she said to laughter. “But she was fun to be around.”

Christine Wall, a local advocate for domestic violence victims, read a few words from Benoit’s family, who were unable to attend.

“They just wanted to really make sure that the outpouring for Katy was not unnoticed,” Wall said. “Katy absolutely loved Moscow, her friends and her studies.”

Garrett Lamm, a senior international studies major from Boise, met Benoit in kindergarten and recalled jumping into a pool with her when they were in the third grade. They graduated together from Boise High School.

“You see and hear the warning signs and you think, ‘Geez, somebody should have stepped in,’ ” he said.

Lamm criticized the school’s reluctance to reveal what officials knew about the relationship.

“If this is the same wall that the public is getting when she made her cry for help, it’s no wonder she didn’t get help,” he said. “Is the university trying to protect everyone or cover its ass?”

The UI on Thursday did little to blunt that criticism, refusing to provide any new details about what school officials knew about the troubled relationship.

Bruce Pitman, the university’s dean of students, said student safety is one of his priorities, but he said he didn’t know what graduate student Benoit said to university officials before she was shot to death Monday outside of her Moscow apartment.

Moscow police suspect 31-year-old Bustamante killed Benoit before turning the gun on himself at a nearby motel. Friends have told police about complaints Benoit made to university officials that are believed to have prompted Bustamante to resign last Friday.

“We are working with Benoit’s family for everything from setting up funeral arrangements and memorial services to helping students who are in great distress,” Pitman said.

But Benoit’s family issued a statement Wednesday criticizing how university officials have handled the situation with their daughter and urged them to be forthcoming with additional information.

Latah County Prosecutor Bill Thompson, who has been helping Moscow police investigate the deaths, said he does not believe Benoit’s signed complaint was ever communicated to local law enforcement.

Friends told police, according to court records, that Bustamante threatened Benoit several times in the past with a gun, including one instance where he reportedly stuck a gun in her mouth.

“That’s the type of information we would hope to be passed along even though there is no state law that specifically requires it,” Thompson said.

He said Idaho only requires health care providers and anyone with knowledge of crimes against children to inform law enforcement of those allegations. Teachers, professors, school officials and counselors are not required to file police reports about allegations.

Pitman said the complaints listed in police reports about Bustamante did not come through his office. He said they were made to the office of Human Rights, Access and Inclusion.

“At this point, it’s the obligation of the staff in that office to investigate” complaints, he said. “I’m assuming they handled it appropriately.”

He then referred all other questions about Benoit’s complaints to a university attorney and to Carmen Suarez, director of Human Rights, Access and Inclusion.

Suarez would not agree to be interviewed Thursday without an appointment.

Pitman said students other than Benoit were never in danger because the shooting occurred off campus.

“We have a very safe campus,” Pitman said. “Even the initial information indicates that the situation was confined to two people.”

Moscow police Lt. Dave Lehmitz would not say whether university officials contacted law enforcement about Benoit’s complaint. He did say the department will release details today that should answer many questions.

He confirmed that Benoit had neither sought nor obtained a restraining order against Bustamante.

“Tragic events happen around the United Stated on a daily basis,” Lehmitz said. “But by and large the University of Idaho is a safe place and the city of Moscow is a safe place. It’s always unfortunate and extremely sad, but you can’t stop bad things from happening all the time.”

At the vigil, Amanda Ament, a senior from Coeur d’Alene, said Benoit was one of the “most genuine people that I ever had the pleasure of knowing.

“Only someone like Katy could bring people from all over the state and stand here with candles,” Ament said. “She touched so many lives. … We will always remember her as the fantastic individual that she was.”

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