Autopsy Under Way On Vermont Student

Missing University of Vermont student Michelle Gardner-Quinn, 21, of Arlington, Va., is shown in this undated family photo. Gardner-Quinn, went out Friday with a group of friends to celebrate a friend's 21st birthday at several downtown bars. AP Photo/Family photo

A man authorities are investigating in the case of a University of Vermont senior who was found dead was being held without bail on unrelated charges Saturday while an autopsy was performed on the victim.

Brian L. Rooney, a construction worker from Richmond with a record of several arrests, was taken into custody Friday, the same day hikers happened upon the body of Michelle Gardner-Quinn along a ravine near Huntington Gorge, a popular swimming hole.

Gardner-Quinn had disappeared nearly a week earlier while walking to her dormitory.

The cause of her death had not been released. The autopsy was ongoing Saturday but results would not be released this weekend, said police Lt. Kathleen Stubbing. She said it would likely be at least a week before any charges can be brought in the case.

Meanwhile, a memorial service for Gardner-Quinn was scheduled for Sunday night at the University of Vermont in Burlington.

Rooney, 36, was arrested Friday on unrelated charges of sex abuse elsewhere in Vermont. He was jailed without bail on those charges Saturday, pending a Monday arraignment. He had not been charged in Gardner-Quinn's case, but is considered the prime suspect in her disappearance and death, Police Chief Thomas Tremblay said.

Gardner-Quinn, 21, of Arlington, Va., was last seen alive in the early morning of Oct. 7 as she walked up Main Street after celebrating a friend's birthday at downtown bars.

Authorities said that in a chance encounter she asked Rooney to borrow his cell phone to make a call because the battery in hers had gone dead. She made the call and was seen, on surveillance video from a jewelry store camera, walking alongside Rooney.

Gardner-Quinn was reported missing later that day when she failed to make a dinner date with her parents.

Because of the surveillance video, Rooney had been the focus of the investigation.

Days later, Rooney was seen with cuts on his hands when he stopped at Walt's Game Room, a candy store and pool parlor in Winooski, where he was a regular customer, owner John Barton said Saturday. It was either Monday or Wednesday, Barton said.

"He looked very down and depressed," said Barton, who asked Rooney about police activity at the house where he was staying.

"I asked him what the deal was with the FBI and police and everything going around. He said he was the guy who had lent the missing girl his cell phone," Barton said. "He basically said `I was walking up the street with her and when I got halfway up she went one way and I went the other and I don't remember anything after that."'

Barton said he noticed two or three cuts on Rooney's right hand but thought they may have been suffered on the job because they were scabbed over.

A woman who lives upstairs from the Winooski apartment where Rooney was staying said Saturday he came home drunk late Wednesday and told her he did something wrong with "the girl from the college."

"He came up and he was drunk, crazy," said Amy Stewart, 25.

"He said he did something wrong with that girl. That's all I know. I say `Tell me more, tell me what's going on,' and he said he not going to tell me anymore," she said.

Rooney was charged with sexual assault in Caledonia County, 80 miles north of Burlington, and with lewd and lascivious conduct with a child in neighboring Essex County, where he previously lived, authorities said.

His stepfather said Saturday he doesn't believe Rooney was involved in Gardner-Quinn's disappearance.

"We've got all the faith in the world in him," said Ronald Skinner, whose Richmond home was searched Tuesday as part of the investigation.

According to court records and interviews, Rooney has had minor scrapes with the law. He had been arrested several times for driving without a license and once for disorderly conduct. He has also had arrests for leaving the scene of an accident and burglary, according to Caledonia County State's Attorney Bob Butterfield, who did not know the ultimate disposition of those charges Saturday.

  • Lloyd Vries

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