A graduate school student and a longtime professor were shot to death today in an apparent murder-suicide on the first day of classes at the University of Arkansas.
Police found Professor John Locke, 67, and James Easton Kelly, 36, dead in Locke’s English department office on the second floor in Kimpell Hall, a building near the heart of the campus. Kelly was a graduate student in the comparative literature program, which Locke taught.
The gun recovered at the scene belonged to Kelly, police said. According to Capt. Brad Bruns, police had not uncovered a motive for the shootings or figured out who pulled the trigger. Kelly had been taking courses in a doctoral program for 10 years and had a pattern of enrolling in comparative literature courses and then dropping them, Bruns said. On Aug. 21, a committee of six professors voted to dismiss Kelly from the degree program but to allow him to continue to take classes as a non-degree student. Locke was on the committee but abstained from the vote, Bruns said.
Shots were fired in the professor’s office at about 2 p.m. ET, a university spokesman said. One earwitness said she heard words exchanged between gunshots.
“I heard one gunshot followed by a young man’s voice saying, ‘No, I didn’t do anything,’” said Bethany Edstrom, a graduate student who was in a nearby office at the time of the shooting. “Then I heard a second shot.”
According to Capt. Bruns, officers who responded to several 911 calls spoke very briefly to a man behind the locked English office door. Less than five minutes later, Bruns said, a final shot rang out. Officers then found Locke and Kelly dead inside.
“All of us at the University of Arkansas are deeply upset by this terrible tragedy,” University of Arkansas Chancellor John A. White said in a statement. “We are working with the UAPD [University of Arkanas Police Department] and other relevant investigative agencies to determine as much as we can.”
President Clinton said today that he was saddened to learn of the killings at the school. He and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton taught law at the University of Arkansas in the mid-1970s.
“Today’s shooting strikes a particularly sad chord for Hillary and me, who both had the privilege of teaching at this wonderful institution,” the president said in a statement.
White said the university has set up counseling services for students and teachers. School officials also have advised students to call their parents and inform them of their well-being. Classes Tuesday will be canceled, and the university will hold a campus-wide forum to help students, faculty and staff cope with the shooting.
“We’re trying to deal with a situation that seems horrific and trying to control everything we can and bring this to resolution as quickly as possible,” said Roger Williams, a campus spokesman.
Kimpel Hall houses faculty in a number of departments — communication, drama, English, foreign languages and journalism. Students and faculty were evacuated when police arrived at the building at 12:20 p.m local time. Journalism department chairwoman Patsy Watkins said many of the 50- to 60-student classrooms on the second floor of Kimpel Hall would have been filled at that time.
Students left the building in an orderly fashion, saying they had been told to leave, Watkins said.