West Lafayette, Ind. — The discovery of the body of a missing Purdue University student in a dormitory's high-voltage utility room has school officials and his family wondering how a door to such a dangerous area was left unlocked.
School officials Tuesday said they would investigate why a door that opens to the outdoors was unlocked and why numerous searches for Wade Steffey, 19, since he went missing Jan. 13 did not include a full inspection of the room.
"The search for Wade Steffey is over, but the search for answers continues," Purdue spokeswoman Jeanne Norberg said.
A maintenance worker investigating a "pinging" sound Monday found the body slumped over machinery. Steffey, a freshman from Bloomington, was last seen in the area after he left a fraternity party. The Tippecanoe County coroner identified the body Tuesday.
The worker unlocked a door to the room from inside the roughly 700-student coed Owen Hall and found Steffey's body, Norberg said.
Afterward, police discovered the room's exterior door closed but unlocked. Norberg said officials have removed that door's lock assembly to determine whether the mechanism works.
It appeared that Steffey tripped and fell onto a power transformer, likely dying instantly when he made contact with high-voltage wires, Norberg said.
Steffey, who did not have a pass key to Owen Hall, probably walked into the room after trying several doors to get into the dorm, where he had stored his coat in a friend's room before going to the party, officials said.
"He was apparently trying doors and found this door," she said.
After Steffey vanished, campus maintenance workers were believed to have checked the utility room for signs of him, she said. Officials were checking to determine exactly when it was examined, she said.
Norberg said workers did not go far enough inside the dark room, about the size of a one-car garage. The high-voltage wiring would have required them to cut power to the entire building to fully examine the area, she said.
Steffey's father, Dale, said he was confident Purdue will thoroughly investigate. He said, "That door should be locked, absolutely."
Steffey's mother, Dawn Adams, said that she was relieved that her only child's body had been found and that she and her husband had felt for some time that he was dead. She said, "We have the answer now, the big answer, to where our son is."
Jonathan Foltz, president of Purdue Student Government, said the circumstances of Steffey's death are disturbing and need to be fully investigated.
"Why wasn't this door locked?" he said. "I think the university has a profound obligation to keep its students out of dangerous situations, especially on university property. I'm afraid we may have failed in that regard."