September 14, 2013

10 years later, Colby College student's rape, murder resonates

By Rachel Ohm
Staff Writer

WATERVILLE — On Sept. 16, 2003, Dawn Rossignol, a promising pre-med student, left her Colby College dormitory room a little after 7 a.m.

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State police technicians pull into the Rice Rips Hydroelectric Project in Oakland on Sept. 17, 2003, where Colby College senior Dawn Rossignol's body was found. jim evans photo Published: No Published Caption

Staff file photo by Jim Evans

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Dawn M. Rossignol's 200 yearbook photo from Schenk High School in East Millinocket.

Contributed file photo

Additional Photos Below

She didn't know she was being watched. Edward J. Hackett Jr., a parolee from Utah who was visiting his parents in Vassalboro, was looking for someone to attack. He picked Rossignol.

Her body was found a day later, near a stream off Rice Rips Road in Oakland.

The murder of the 21-year-old senior from Medway, who hoped to be a pharmacist, made national news and shocked the Colby community, which many thought of as a sanctuary from crime and violence.

Rossignol's death challenged that perception, as well as shed light on the challenges the corrections system and mental health care providers can play in resolving mental health problems.

Thousands of students have passed through the Colby College campus since Rossignol was murdered, but her story is still remembered for many reasons, including the role it played in the development of safety on the campus.

Rossignol's murder wasn't a wake-up call, but it gave a face to the message campus police and security send out every year as hundreds of new students come to campus.

Waterville police and Colby security officials at the time agreed that Rossignol's murder could have happened anywhere and that the college's security was good.

"Everyone who looked at this situation agreed that it was a random act. Colby is comfortable that our security protocols were more than adequate at the time," spokeswoman Ruth Jacobs said.

Still, there have been changes to the way the campus responds to emergencies.

Jacobs said the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings, in which 32 people were killed and 17 wounded, were a factor in the college's efforts to improve emergency communications by setting up a siren system and a system for sending text messages and emails to the campus population.

Maine has the lowest crime rate of any state in the country, with 123.2 violent crimes reported per 100,000 inhabitants in 2011, the most recent data available from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Yet the state's college campuses must work continually to raise awareness among students, faculty and staff, said Noel March, U.S. marshal for the District of Maine and former head of security of the University of Maine.

"We've learned differently," he said. "From Virginia Tech to Colby College, we know that our college campuses, while safe, are not risk-free communities that live in a bubble of safety."

'That killer stalked her'

Hackett watched Rossignol that September morning 10 years ago as she walked into the parking lot and unlocked her car.

"That killer stalked her and had a plan for how he was going to carry out his crime," March said.

Hackett, 47, was on parole from the Utah prison system, where he'd been convicted for burglary and kidnapping, when he told mental health care providers he knew he was not going to be successful and that he planned to do something violent in order to get back into the structured setting of prison, according to Waterville attorney Pamela Ames, his court-appointed lawyer.

That morning, Hackett planned a kidnapping and sexual assault.

He parked his car in the parking lot and he watched her approach, Ames said. She said he had identified a specific car. If Rossignol got into that one, he would not take her.

She walked past the car he'd picked out and continued to her own.

Hackett already had checked out the site of the water treatment plant where he brought Rossignol in her car, tied her to a tree and sexually assaulted her, Ames said. After the assault, Hackett didn't know what to do with her, and fearing that she would tell someone, he smashed her head in with a rock. Her cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Edward J. Hackett

Staff file photo by Jim Evans

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Sarah Kaminshine, right, then a Colby College senior, tries to protect her candle from the wind during a vigil outside Anthony Mitchell Schupf dormitory in memory of Dawn Rossignol on Sept. 18, 2003, in Waterville.

File photo by Jeff Pouland

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State Police investigators, Waterville and Oakland police assembled at the base of the Rice Rips Road in Oakland on Sept. 17, 2003, to investigate the discovery of Colby College student Dawn M. Rossignol, who was found found dead that morning.

Staff file photo by David Leaming

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Police discuss details following the discovery of the body of Colby College student Dawn Rossignol along the Rice Rips Road in Oakland on Sept. 17, 2003. From left are then-Waterville Police Chief John Morris, Oakland Police Chief Mike Tracy and Maine State Police Detective Timothy Doyle.

Staff file photo by David Leaming


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