More than two months before her death, Kathryn “Katy” Benoit told an official at the University of Idaho that she was frightened by her professor, who carried weapons “everywhere, including to campus,” and that she also worried about the safety of fellow students.
Benoit, 22, was killed on Aug. 22 by Ernesto Bustamante, with whom she had an intimate relationship. The assistant professor then killed himself in a Moscow hotel room.
Previously unreported details of Benoit’s June 12 complaint to the university were revealed in the graduate student’s letter to Carmen Suarez, of the Office of Human Rights, Access and Inclusion. A friend of Benoit’s who proofread the letter provided a copy of the document; another friend verified that it is the letter submitted to the university.
A university spokeswoman said on Monday that no official was available to comment on the contents of the complaint.
Benoit wrote that Bustamante began flirting with her soon after becoming her adviser “per the instigation of the university” last fall, and by the end of the semester, “he and I were in a sexually active relationship.”
During this time, she said, she witnessed numerous sexual comments, as well as “threats and unpredictable behavior” toward students by Bustamante.
“If students wanted to question him, or defy him in any way, he would always premise his response with ‘it’s never a good idea to piss me off,’ ” Benoit wrote.
Bustamante is reported to have been afflicted with multiple personality disorder, and Benoit wrote that she witnessed five of these personalities, “or at least him portraying them.”
Benoit began to feel concern for her safety and that of other students, the complaint said. In it, she named 19 students as likely witnesses of inappropriate behavior by Bustamante.
She said she had seen Bustamante in possession of at least five weapons and that he carried a Utah concealed weapons permit.
“He answers his door with them, travels with them, sleeps near them, everywhere,” she said of the weapons, “including on campus.”
In the hotel room where Bustamante committed suicide, police discovered six weapons, including the .45-caliber pistol officers believe he used to shoot Benoit.
Benoit suggested that Bustamante had inappropriate relationships with others, and that she had firsthand knowledge of an ongoing relationship between the professor and at least one other student.
Benoit asked the university to protect her and help her sort out her master’s degree program, which was heavily influenced by the professor she had come to fear.
“I cannot take classes of his any longer nor can I permit this twisted behavior to continue for the sake of myself and other women who will come after me,” she wrote.
She closed by writing that there was “ample reason to be fully concerned with the safety of all involved.”
Benoit said Bustamante had threatened her at gunpoint on three occasions between January and May, when she broke off the relationship.
“He told her she had four days to make it up to him or he was going to kill her,” UI student Sarah Sutter, who helped her friend hide from Bustamante, said in a telephone interview Monday.
After the deaths of Benoit and Bustamante, the university released a timeline of the steps officials took in response to Benoit’s complaint.
School officials said they first learned of the relationship and the threats against Benoit on June 10 and urged her to contact the Moscow Police Department. The university also contacted police directly.
Two days later, Benoit filed the complaint with the university.
Police said Bustamante filed a complaint of his own on July 8, alleging that Benoit was trying to defame his character.
On the day she was killed, school officials told Benoit that Bustamante’s last day of employment had been Aug. 19 and cautioned her “to remain vigilant and get assistance from the police and others if she had any safety concerns.”
Benoit was shot 11 times outside her apartment at 8:40 p.m.
Sutter said the university told Benoit that her tormentor would be dismissed, “but nobody checked to make sure he was really gone.”
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