CASTLETON, Vt. (AP) — Students and residents in a small Vermont university town were being told to lock their doors and stick together as police searched Tuesday for a killer who shot a retired dean on her favorite walking trail last week.
Honoree Fleming, a retired dean and professor of education at Vermont State University in Castleton, was found shot to death Thursday afternoon about a mile (1.61 kilometers) south of campus. Police said Monday they don’t know if the community of roughly 4,500 people is in any further danger or whether Fleming was targeted.
“I recommend to the public to be vigilant, have some awareness,” said Maj. Dan Trudeau, commander of the Vermont State Police’s criminal division. “If you’re out, be with a friend.”
Detectives have been interviewing people who live near the wooded Delaware & Hudson Rail Trail or were in the area between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. Thursday.
One witness reported seeing a man walking northbound on the trail toward campus after gunshots were heard, police said. The witness described a 5-foot-10 (1.78-meter) white male with short, red hair, wearing a dark gray T-shirt and carrying a black backpack. State police said he is considered to be armed and dangerous.
Castleton, in west-central Vermont, is about 5 miles east of the Vermont-New York border in an area known for scenic mountain views and slate and marble quarries. The university, founded in 1787, was closed last week for fall break. Students were excused from classes when it reopened Monday, and classes resumed Tuesday.
Two Vermont State Police cruisers were parked at one end of town on Tuesday afternoon, while cruisers periodically drove through campus and around the community.
Castleton resident Mary Waite said she didn’t leave the house much over the weekend, is being careful and has been looking out her back door a lot because the woods behind the house leads to the trail area.
She’s lived in the small town lined with historic homes all of her life. “We’ve never had anything like this. Not a thing,” she said.
Valma Brown, who works at the Castleton Village Store, said she feels safe with the police presence around town. “They’re watching out for us so I feel pretty safe,” she said. “Some people are really on edge and they don’t want to go anywhere. It’s just creepy how it happened in this small town.”
The university’s cross-country team stood in a campus parking lot waiting to drive to practice Tuesday afternoon. Some members said they fear for their safety and are staying away from the trail.
“I’m very concerned. I love running on that rail trail like almost every day for practice and I’m not going to use it until further notice until things get resolved,” said John Hendley, a senior from Oneonta, New York.
Other students said they feel safe because the university has stepped up security.
Fleming died days before what would have been her 45th wedding anniversary. Her husband, author Ron Powers, co-wrote the book “Flags of Our Fathers,” about the men involved in the famous flag-raising during the 1945 Battle of Iwo Jima. A Pulitzer Prize winner in 1973 for criticism as a television-radio columnist, he also wrote a biography of Mark Twain and collaborated with the late U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy on the politician’s memoir, “True Compass.”
AP reporter Holly Ramer contributed to this report from Concord, N.H.