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Shippensburg reeling in wake of brutal student murder

April 26, 2000|By DON AINES

SHIPPENSBURG, Pa. - Students and faculty members at Shippensburg University reacted tearfully Wednesday to the news that a charred body found in a mountain fire early Tuesday was that of a marketing major who had been shot in the head.

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Sydney S. Bull, 23, a senior from Norristown, Pa., was slain and his body set on fire in the Michaux State Forest just outside Franklin County, Cumberland County Coroner Mike Norris said Wednesday.

"We are posting a $10,000 reward for the arrest and conviction of the perpetrator or perpetrators of this crime," University President Anthony F. Ceddia told a group of more than 200 students, faculty and press at a noon meeting in the Old Main Chapel.

Ceddia said the reward is also meant to send "a clear signal" that such a crime committed against a member of the university was unacceptable "regardless of skin color, gender or sexual preference." Bull is black.

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Bull's body was found at about 1:30 a.m. by firefighters responding to a mountain fire off Hogshead Road, a dirt road in a part of the state forest in South Newton Township.

Norris issued a statement Wednesday saying Bull died of the gunshot wound. The fire appeared to have been set after he was dead.

Trooper Linette Quinn, a Pennsylvania State Police spokeswoman, said the fire was reported by nearby residents at about 1 a.m. She said firefighters were putting out hot spots when they discovered the body.

Quinn said Bull's vehicle had also been found, but she would not reveal when or where. She said she could not discuss what kind of physical evidence was recovered in the remote, wooded area.

In the front row of the chapel several students were crying and consoling each other.

"He was a great friend, always willing to help," said Leon Wilkerson, a friend and fellow student. "That's what makes it such a shock. Stuff like this doesn't happen to nice people."

Wilkerson said Bull transferred to Shippensburg in 1997 from Albright College in Reading, Pa., where he played football and ran track.

Bull lived off campus.

Wilkerson said he had seen Bull on campus Saturday. "I wished him a Happy Easter. He went home for Easter break," he said.

"Kind-hearted, gentle and understanding" was how Tanessa Moten, a junior, described Bull. She said she had seen him Sunday or Monday on campus.

Track and Field Coach Steve Spence said Bull had been with the team briefly in 1997-98 but did not compete in any meets. "He was a very visible person on campus," Spence said.

Ceddia said police had notified Bull's mother in Texas and his father in California and they were coming to Shippensburg. He said a memorial service will be held next week.

Outside the chapel on a sidewalk someone had scrawled "Sydney Bull, In Loving Memory, 1976-2000. We'll miss you."

Because of Bull's race, representatives of the Pennsylvania Human Rights Commission and the State Police Heritage Affairs Office were on hand for the meeting. The Heritage Affairs Office investigates hate crimes, but Lt. Barry Staub said there was no indication of a hate crime other than the victim's race.

Staub said there were no notes, graffiti, anonymous calls or other information indicating a hate crime.

Quinn later said there was also no indication that the crime was "campus-related," although the state police have set up a temporary command center at the university. Quinn said Wednesday afternoon police were doing interviews on campus.

"There are over 30 state police officers from six counties involved in the case," said Lt. Patrick Gebhart, commander of the Troop H Criminal Investigation Section.

Wednesday was the last day of classes before final exams begin. University Director of Public Safety Herbert H. Bowers said police need to interview students before the semester ends.

"If you have any information as to the circumstances of this tragic event, we encourage you to contact the state police" or other authorities, Ceddia told the crowd.

"Our counseling center is on alert and fully staffed" for anyone needing assistance relating to Bull's death, Ceddia said.

The university has a hotline for anyone with information to call at 1-717-477-1200.

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