Video: Interview with Purdue student's parents

updated 3/20/2007 3:23:40 PM ET 2007-03-20T19:23:40

A body found slumped over machinery in a dormitory’s high-voltage utility room was identified Tuesday as a 19-year-old Purdue University student who vanished in January, school officials said.

A maintenance worker investigating a “pinging” sound on Monday discovered the body of Wade Steffey, a freshman who was last seen in the area Jan. 13 after he left a fraternity party. The Tippecanoe County coroner identified the body Tuesday.

It appeared he tripped and fell onto a power transformer, Purdue spokeswoman Jeanne Norberg said.

“He is believed to have died instantly,” she said.

The maintenance worker had unlocked the utility room from inside the Owen Hall on Monday, Norberg said. Afterward, police discovered that the room’s exterior door was closed but that it was unlocked, she said. Officials had said Monday that the ground-level utility room wasn’t accessible from Owen Hall and was locked with two sets of keys, one each for two sets of doors.

Officials have removed the exterior door’s lock assembly for a forensic examination to determine whether the mechanism works. Norberg said Purdue will conduct an independent investigation to “to find out all we can about this accident occurred.”

“We’re going to find out. The search for Wade Steffey is over but the search for answers continues,” Norberg said.

Steffey’s father, Dale, said he was confident Purdue would thoroughly investigate.

“That door should be locked, absolutely,” he said.

The area around Owen Hall had been repeatedly searched after Steffey was reported missing, and maintenance staff had opened the utility room, but Norberg said they didn’t fully inspect the interior because of the risk posed by the high-voltage equipment.

'Now there is grief'
Power was cut to the coed residence hall that houses about 700 students while the body was removed.

“We have the answer now, the big answer, to where our son is,” said Steffey’s mother, Dawn Adams, who said she and her husband had felt before the body’s discovery that their son was dead.

“Now everyone who was praying for us can have a measure of peace,” she said. “This affects so many more people than us. Now there is grief.”

Campus officials had organized several searches for Steffey, the most recent a ground search in the area on Sunday. Anna Hirst, an area resident who helped with the searches, described the community’s emotion on hearing the news.

“It’s absolutely devastating,” she said.

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