Bad Juju

Police ask for public’s help in finding missing UVM student
Published: Tuesday, October 10, 2006
By Adam Silverman
Free Press Staff Writer

The search for a missing University of Vermont student expanded Monday as more than two dozen law-enforcement agents searched Burlington and beyond, and the young woman’s friends plastered the city with fliers. Police said members of the public should be conscious of their personal safety, and investigators asked for help in finding Michelle Gardner-Quinn, a 21-year-old senior from Arlington, Va., who vanished early Saturday morning as she walked back to her campus dorm room, alone, from downtown.

For many, though, worry was beginning to take the place of hope.”Time is of the essence,” Burlington Police Department Chief Thomas Tremblay said, “and the more time that goes by, the more concerned we become.” Gardner-Quinn was last seen at about 2:15 a.m. Saturday on Main Street near Edmunds Elementary and Middle School. She had dinner earlier that evening with her parents, who were in town for UVM’s Family Weekend, said family friend Gail Fendley of Falls Church, Va. Then Gardner-Quinn joined a group of friends to celebrate a 21st birthday at several downtown bars. She left one bar to find another group of friends, but when she couldn’t connect with them, she decided to walk back to her room in University Heights, friend Tommy Lang said Sunday.

Gardner-Quinn never made it back, and her parents reported her missing the next day when she didn’t show up for dinner, Lang said. The family, through police, declined to comment Monday.

Fendley said she has known Gardner-Quinn for nearly 10 years, ever since her son, Ian Willson, met Gardner-Quinn at a summer camp for gifted children in eighth or ninth grade. The two dated on and off during high school and have remained “really close,” Fendley said Monday as she drove to Richmond, Va., to comfort her son at college. “He’s distraught,” Fendley said. “Michelle is terrific. She’s reliable. She’s responsible. She’s traveled extensively. This is so totally unlike her, especially with her parents in town. They are such a close-knit family.”

Burlington police are working with canine teams and authorities from UVM, the Vermont State Police and the FBI, Tremblay said at an afternoon news conference. The chief said detectives remained uncertain whether they were investigating a crime. “Investigators have been working around the clock following leads,” Tremblay said. “No specific suspects have been identified.”

Investigators were trying to find a Subaru or similar-type hatchback whose driver was reported to be acting suspiciously around the time Gardner-Quinn disappeared, Tremblay said. Police didn’t say whether the vehicle was a station wagon or a sport-utility vehicle. The driver, a white man in his 20s, stopped his car and asked a woman he did not know to get in at about 2:35 a.m. Saturday near the Salvation Army Thrift Store at 336 N. Winooski Ave. The woman did not get in, Tremblay said, and she later told police the driver appeared to be alone. That incident occurred about a mile north of Edmunds.

“We are considering it a vehicle of interest, a preliminary lead that may or may not be related to this case,” Tremblay said.

He described the car as white with gold trim and a gold pinstripe, likely with a green Vermont license plate that has a bent-up bottom. The driver is about 6 feet tall and muscular with short-cropped light blond hair, a day’s growth of stubble and possibly one nostril larger than the other, according to police. He was wearing a gray hooded sweatshirt and a light-colored baseball cap. Police also asked that anyone searching their neighborhoods for personal belongings or clothing matching the description of what Gardner-Quinn was wearing — a gray peacoat, green button-up cardigan sweater, light blue T-shirt, and a black Puma purse with white straps — not touch anything they might find and to call city police at 658-2700.

Precautions suggested Police encouraged people to take precautions while they are out in Burlington: Walk in pairs or groups, stay in well-lit locations and away from dense shrubbery. “Be aware of your personal surroundings, be aware of the things that are going on around you, and trust your instincts,” Tremblay said.

A safety forum has been scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday at a location to be determined. Gardner-Quinn transferred to UVM this year from Goucher College in Baltimore, friends said.Fendley said she’s not sure why Gardner-Quinn transferred, but she’s an avid snowboarder, interested in environmental studies and once had a boyfriend in Vermont. Fendley knew of no troubles from Gardner-Quinn’s past. “She was a good student,” Fendley said. “I can’t imagine any problems. She was a good influence on my child.”

Contact Adam Silverman at 660-1854 or


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