Auburn Edgy as Violent Coed Death Probed

She was shot to death off campus; her car was found ablaze in a campus lot.

March 6, 2008— -- Authorities have not yet named a suspect or motive in the shooting death of an Auburn University freshman who was found along an Alabama highway Tuesday night, a half-hour before her car was found engulfed in flames on campus.

Lauren A. Burk, an 18-year-old pre-graphic design major, was taken to the East Alabama Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead, according to the Auburn Police Department.

Shortly after 9 p.m. Tuesday, authorities responded to a call about an injured female along Alabama Highway 147 near the university. There, they found Burk, who had been shot once.

Less than a half-hour later, another call came in, this time about a vehicle on fire in the parking lot of Hinton Field on the southern part of the Alabama campus behind a residence hall.

The vehicle, a black 2001 Honda Civic, was registered to Burk, according to the Auburn police. The Auburn Fire Division responded and extinguished the fire. No one was inside the vehicle.

Both the spot along the road where Burk was found and the area around her car were processed for evidence. No arrests have been made in connection with the student's death and no suspects have been named.

"We've dedicated all possible resources to trying to find the perpetrator of this crime," Auburn police spokesman Capt. Tom Stofer told ABC News Wednesday. "Auburn, Ala., is a relatively quiet community of students and we take things like this personally. If anyone suffers injury or death, we all feel it and we won't rest until we find the perpetrator."

Stofer also said that Alabama Gov. Bob Riley offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to an arrest in Burk's case.

Burk's death came just hours before Eve Carson, the 22-year-old student body president at the University of North Carolina, was gunned down near the school's Chapel Hill campus about 500 miles away. No suspect has been named in Carson's death. Her vehicle was stolen in the crime.

Auburn University released a statement Wednesday about Burk's death that urged students and employees to use extra caution on and off campus, but reassured them that the campus was secure.

"Many of you and your parents have called, understandably concerned," the statement begins. "There is no indication of additional danger to campus or student safety."

Still, enough talk about a possible campus gunman on the loose circulated Wednesday that the university issued this alert. "Rumors of a shooting or other incidents this afternoon on the Auburn University campus are NOT true. Information on the previously reported student death will continue to be updated [here.]"

The message from the university administration also urged students to sign up for the campus emergency text message system. Students received first word of Burk's shooting death from school officials around noon Wednesday by e-mail, the Auburn Plainsman, the university newspaper, reported.

The Plainsman also received a statement from university president Jay Gouge, who was out of town Wednesday.

"We are so saddened by this situation, words simply aren't adequate," Gouge wrote in the statement. "This is a close-knit community that rarely experiences such a tragedy."

In fact, Auburn police said Wednesday that for now they are not connecting Burk's murder with the unsolved disappearance in June 2006 of 24-year-old Auburn University graduate Lori Ann Slesinski. In that case, the woman's car was found ablaze less than a week after she was reported missing along a road.

Burk's sorority Delta Gamma released a statement about what sorority officials described as an "unexpected and disturbing" crime. The sorority urged Burk's sisters at the Auburn chapter to cooperate fully with detectives as they piece together what happened Tuesday night.

By 4 p.m. today, more than 7,500 Facebook members had joined the memorial site "RIP Lauren Burk." More than 250 photos were posted of Burk and many users — a majority of them Auburn students — had left tribute messages.

"Smiling" and "sweetheart" are two words used repeatedly to describe Burk. Some students pleaded for justice, while others put the slaying into a broader context of violence on campuses across the country.

"Lauren was another victim of the violence found in today's colleges," an Auburn Facebook user identified as Scott Odom wrote. "How much longer can those in authority ignore the impact of this violence? Lauren's death as well as the victims of other college shootings and violence does not need to be in vain."

ABC News Atlanta affiliate WSB-TV reported that Burk was a recent graduate of Walton High School in Cobb County, Ga.

The main campus at Auburn University, located in Alabama near the Georgia line, had a fall 2007 enrollment of 24,137, according to the university Web site.