Harvard Killing Ends in Suicide

WASHINGTON -- A Harvard pre-med student fatally stabbed her roommate, injured another woman and then killed herself in a mystifying early-morning rampage Sunday.


After stabbing the two women, Sinedu Tadesse barricaded herself in the bathroom the students shared at Harvard's Dunster House residence hall and hanged herself. Attempts at the scene to resuscitate the 20-year-old junior from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, were unsuccessful, and she was declared dead at Cambridge Hospital, local authorities said.


Tadesse's roommate, junior Trang Phuong Ho, 20, of Medford, Massachusetts, died at the dormitory of multiple stab wounds. The other victim was Thao Nguyen, 26, of Lowell, Massachusetts, a friend of Ho's who had stayed overnight in the room, said Martin Murphy, first assistant district attorney of Middlesex County, at a news conference outside of the dormitory.


Murphy said investigators knew of no motive for the attack. He said Tadesse assaulted Ho after Tadesse's alarm clock rang around 8 a.m. Ho was still in bed at the time, Murphy said, and Nguyen was injured while trying to protect Ho. Nguyen was treated at a hospital and released.


Nguyen, bleeding heavily from the hand and wrist, ran screaming from the second-floor room into the courtyard.


"I woke up at 8:30 to hear a girl out in Dunster Courtyard shrieking, 'Someone's killed my friend! Someone's killed my friend!'" said Harvard junior Timothy Cullen, quoted in a special edition of the Harvard published Sunday afternoon. "It went on for three or four minutes.''


Last week, the Crimson received an envelope, note and wallet-size photo of Tadesse. The note stated: "Keep this picture. There will soon be a very juicy story involving the person in this picture.'' Crimson editors discarded the items, but police recovered them late Sunday after a search through the newspaper's trash.


Police and the officials in Middlesex district attorney's office, which has taken charge of the investigation, said they were trying to reconstruct the events of Saturday night and investigating whether drugs or alcohol were involved in the incident. Nguyen told police that Tadesse and Ho had not fought during her stay, Murphy said.


Karel Liem, an ichthyology professor and housemaster at Dunster, said both women were in good standing academically. Other dorm residents said they did not know of any history of enmity between the two, who lived together last year and chose to be roommates again.


"They were the quietest people in the house. They never gave anyone a bit of trouble,'' said one student at the dorm who asked that his name not be used.


Dunster House is one of Harvard's most picturesque buildings, a Georgian brick hall with a leafy courtyard that often figures prominently in photos and films depicting the school. It is the campus home for some 350 undergraduates. In recent years it has gained a reputation as a center for "crunchies'' -- campus slang for students with an environmentalist, neo-hippie bent.


Final exams had just ended at Harvard, and this was move-out weekend, when freshmen, sophomores and juniors vacate the residence halls so alumni can move back in for next month's reunions.


Dunster House residents and parents who had come to Cambridge to help their children pack their things, were confronted with a gruesome juxtaposition of Ivy League elegance and police lines and blood.


Student-on-student homicides, rare at any college, are almost unheard of at Harvard. Students researching such incidents Sunday could find no mention of any in the last five years, and Harvard police chief Paul Johnson, who has been with the university for 12 years, said, "I can't be exact, but I believe the last murder of a Harvard student by another Harvard student occurred about 15 years ago.''


Student deaths by other means, however, broke Dunster's calm twice this spring.


In mid-April, a 1994 Harvard graduate who retained close ties to Dunster House residents killed herself at a nearby shooting range. Just two days later, a Dunster House sophomore committed suicide in his room.


At the scene, Harvard President Neil Rudenstine told the Crimson that the incident was "devastating" and refused further comment.