Suspect Arraigned in Deaf Student Murders

A 20-year-old freshman student charged with murder in the deaths of two deaf Gallaudet University students has confessed to the slayings, police said today.

Joseph Mesa Jr. of Guam, also a Gallaudet student, was charged and ordered held held without bond today in the deaths of Benjamin Varner, 19, of San Antonio, Texas and Eric Plunkett, 19, of Burnsville, Minn. Varner was stabbed to death Feb. 3 in his dorm room in Cogswell Hall on the Gallaudet campus. Eric Plunkett was beaten to death in September in his room on the first floor of Cogswell Hall.

Mesa was arrested Tuesday night and admitted to the slayings, police said. Authorities believe robbery was the motive for the killings.

"The motive in both of these murders was robbery," said D.C. Police Chief Charles Ramsey. "We have the utmost confidence in the strength of this case. There wasn't even an argument or a fight that seemed to have led to it or a moment of rage."

Police said Mesa cashed at least one check belonging to Varner after his death and used Plunkett's debit card after his slaying. In a search of Mesa's room, police also said they found blood-stained shoes and clothing. Ramsey said 18-year-old Thomas Minch of Greenland, N.H., who was charged with Plunkett's murder in October, has now been cleared of suspicion.

Mesa said nothing during his arraignment in court today as a sign language interpreter to relayed information to him during the proceedings.

Campus Relieved, Yet Heartbroken

Mesa lived in the Krug Hall dormitory next to Cogswell Hall. Though students expressed relief that police had made an arrest, they also grieved because the alleged killer is one of their own.

"We were really hoping that it wasn't a student," said Gallaudet student Jessica Young. "But there was a suspicion that it was someone inside the community."

"We feel like a family here. And for someone to have committed those murders from our community, it's embarrassing. And at the same time, it's also a scary thought," said another student Rebecca Goldenbaum.

Early in the investigation, police had expressed their concerns that it would be difficult to communicate with witnesses, and also noted that because Gallaudet is a school for the deaf, students would not have heard noises that could have provided clues. But now they say most of their hard work is over.

However, for many students it will be a long time before the campus will be back to normal. On Friday there will be a memorial service for their two dead peers.'s Rose Palazzolo and Pierre Thomas in Washington, D.C. contributed to this report.