Eric Plunkett graduated near the top of his class as salutorian at the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf.
An adventurous, outgoing 18-year-old in May 2000, he’d been born with a congenital disease that caused both deafness and a mild form of cerebral palsy. But neither stilled his ambition, and he followed the path taken by many of his teachers to enroll the next fall at Gallaudet University, the nation’s only institution of higher learning geared to the hearing-impaired.
So excited was Plunkett that he’d framed his college acceptance letter, telling his family that he would replace it four years later with his diploma.
After leaving home, he quickly settled into student life at the college in the heart of urban Washington, D.C., which protected its students behind a 10-foot wrought iron fence that stood as a barrier to surrounding neighborhoods where crime was prevalent.
It could not, however, safeguard students from violence within.
On Sept. 28, 2000, Plunkett’s new classmate and friend Joseph Mesa, also 18, who lived across from Plunkett in the Cogswell Hall dorm, grew concerned when Plunkett missed their 8 p.m. math tutoring session. Plunkett’s dorm room door, almost always open to others, remained locked. It turned out no one had seen him all day.
A residential adviser used his master key to enter Plunkett’s single room.
Inside, Plunkett was on the floor with “a fairly large pool of blood found by his head,” retired detective Sgt. James LaFranchise of D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department recalls in Monday night’s episode of People Magazine Investigates, which airs at 10 p.m. ET on Investigation Discovery. (An exclusive clip of the show, entitled “The Sound of Silence,” is shown above.)
• Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Click here to get breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases in the True Crime Newsletter.
He was dead from blunt-force trauma, with injuries on his face, head and lower back. Investigators at the crime scene also found clumps of Plunkett’s scalp and hair near his body — and, tellingly, a chair flecked with blood spatter, perhaps used to beat him.
Nothing pointed immediately to a potential killer’s identity. But the brutality of the attack suggested a type of suspect — someone acting out of rage and anger, and very possibly a person who knew the victim.
“There was somewhat overkill involved,” says LaFranchise.
Panicked students began questioning each other. But before police could deliver an answer, a second student on the same dorm floor was dead.
People Magazine Investigates: The Sound of Silence airs Monday, Feb. 11 (10 p.m. ET) on Investigation Discovery.