Eastern Michigan University Stays Quiet About Student's Rape and Murder for Weeks

Laura Dickinson was always close to her family members, working beside them in their coffee shop in Hastings, Mich. Even when she was away at college at Eastern Michigan University, she spoke to her parents and boyfriend every day.

So when Laura didn't return a couple of calls in December, her parents, Bob and Deb Dickinson, thought it was strange but chalked it up to the hectic end of the semester.

"I called her on Wednesday and there was no answer," Bob said.

But after a few days, when she still hadn't called, they began to worry and called university officials, asking them to check on their daughter.

Then Bob and Deb received the worst possible news: A dorm custodian had discovered Laura's body in her room after several of her neighbors complained about an odor.

"It was pretty devastating," Bob said. "I don't know if there's a gentle way to say that."

The official word from Eastern Michigan University was that Laura had died of natural causes, that somehow the healthy 22-year-old had been killed by a freak accident.

"They said there was no evidence of foul play," Laura's mother, Deb, said.

Murder Investigation Kept Under Wraps

For 10 weeks, Laura's family and friends mourned her death and believed that it was indeed a horrible accident.

The student body was assured by school officials that the campus was safe.

But in February, the Dickinsons and campus received shocking news: Orange Amir Taylor, also a student at Eastern Michigan, had been arrested and charged with raping and murdering Laura.

"This was not a freak event, but a tragedy, a murder on our campus," said Tom Sidlik, chairman of the Michigan Board of Regents, which oversees the school.

It turns out that police and school officials had been quietly investigating Laura's death for weeks, but had never told the student body that they suspected a murder had been committed on campus and that the murderer was still at large.

"They're absolutely incorrect. The university got it wrong. It's unacceptable behavior of the university administration," Sidlik said.

By keeping the investigation secret, Eastern Michigan University violated a federal law, known as the Jean Clery Act, which is named for a student killed on another college campus. The law says that colleges must inform the campus community about crimes that are considered to be a threat to students and employees.

Travis Scott, Laura's boyfriend, questioned why the campus community wasn't informed about the threat.

It's a haunting reminder of the massacre at Virginia Tech, where parents and students weren't informed of the mental troubles of student Seung-Hui Cho because of state privacy laws. Cho fatally shot 32 people at the school before killing himself.

Taylor currently is being held without bail and is scheduled to be tried in the fall in Ann Arbor.

The Michigan Board of Regents commissioned an independent investigation into Laura's death. The almost-600-page report states, "The facts show that the University failed to timely and properly warn the campus community about Ms. Dickinson's death, which was unquestionably a possible homicide."

The school did not discuss the matter with ABC News and referred reporters to the Board of Regents. But said John Fallon, president of Eastern Michigan University apologized to his board of regents Tuesday for the university's handling of the case.

"I apologized to you and say ... never again will such a confounding series of mistakes be made on my watch," Fallon said.

Sidlik has apologized for the school's failure to be more forthright, but he denied the school had engaged in a cover-up and insisted mistakes were made because of ignorance of the Clery Act.

But these revelations come all too late for a family that has lost its only daughter.

"It's still hard for me to believe that she's gone. How could this have happened?" Laura's mother, Deb, said.