Friends eulogize Vt. college student found dead last week

Monday, October 16, 2006

BURLINGTON, Vt. -- About 900 people, solemn and shaken, packed a brick chapel Sunday to lay flowers and sing songs in remembrance of a University of Vermont student found dead last week.

Michelle Gardner-Quinn's smile beamed down from two easel-mounted photographs as a minister and four of the student's friends eulogized the 21-year-old senior, who was found dead Friday in a ravine near Burlington.

Gardner-Quinn was last seen Oct. 7 walking up Main Street in Burlington with Brian L. Rooney, 36, after borrowing his cell phone in a bid to reunite with friends she had been out with. Rooney, who was seen walking alongside her in surveillance camera footage shot by a jewelry store camera at 2:34 a.m., was apparently the last person to see her alive, according to police.

Rooney is scheduled to be arraigned in state District Court in the northern Vermont town of St. Johnsbury on unrelated charges of sexual assault on a minor. He is also charged with lewd and lascivious conduct with a minor in neighboring Essex County, more than 80 miles east of the Burlington campus.

Police say he is a suspect in Gardner-Quinn's disappearance, but he hasn't been charged.

An autopsy was performed Saturday, but police have yet to give a cause of death or say when Gardner-Quinn died.

With her parents, sister and brother sitting in the front row Sunday, the Rev. Sue Marie Baskette, a campus minister, spoke of Gardner-Quinn's love of nature.

"We are angry and wanting to shout and scream at the top of our lungs. Why? Why, God, why? Yet there is no answer, only the stinging reminder of our frail existence here on earth," Baskette said.

The 55-minute service included readings from Gardner-Quinn's journal and an essay she wrote for an environmental studies class that she had turned in two days before her disappearance.

"Through my travels, I have learned tremendously, yet I feel that now is the time to settle down and explore internally. In this stage of life, I want to be able to practice what I preach, which includes internal connection to the natural world as well as community involvement," Gardner-Quinn wrote.

Friends, fighting back tears, said Gardner-Quinn, who had just transferred to the university this fall, taught them to laugh harder, eat healthier and appreciate dancing to the music of Shakira.

Gardner-Quinn's yoga instructors celebrated her love of the activity by performing exercises onstage as her faculty adviser read from her journal.

"Her crazy personality and positive energy always made our dorm such a happy place," one friend said.

The journal was given to Gardner-Quinn's father, John-Charles Quinn, as her family left the chapel after the service.

The Essex County charge against Rooney dates to an incident in 1998. Both charges were brought as a result of information that came to light as police investigated him in connection with Gardner-Quinn's disappearance.

Rooney, a construction worker and father of three, has been jailed without bail since his arrest Friday.

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