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  Geotimes - September 2007 - Graduate student murdered

Science and Society
Graduate student murdered

On June 26, newlywed Alyssa Heberton-Morimoto, a 24-year-old geology graduate student at the University of Colorado at Denver and an intern with the Colorado Geological Survey, was murdered while doing field work.

Heberton-Morimoto had been out in the remote Pike-San Isabel National Forest in Park County, Colo., mapping the geology of a ridge in the forest with her advisor, Karen Houck, a geologist. According to an affidavit, the two split up shortly before lunch on June 26, with Heberton-Morimoto taking their Jeep along one side of the ridge and Houck walking along the other side. Houck radioed Heberton-Morimoto that she would be late meeting her for lunch. About five minutes later, according to Houck, she received a frantic call from Heberton-Morimoto, who was screaming “Help me, Help me!” Houck set off immediately, locating her student’s belongings and the Jeep (with no car keys) at the agreed-upon meeting point about 20 minutes later. There was no sign of Heberton-Morimoto or her radio, according to a June 28 Denver Post article.

Houck saw a truck parked at a nearby campground and flagged down its owner, asking for a ride to find cell phone reception to call for help. About 10 hours later, authorities found Heberton-Morimoto’s body in a creek 100 meters from the campsite where her Jeep was parked, with a military-style web belt wrapped around her neck, according to the Denver Post article.

In a creepy twist, the man who gave Houck a ride to get help has been charged with Heberton-Morimoto’s murder. Robert Amos, also known as Dennis Lee Cook, is a 44-year-old parolee who was imprisoned for 19 years on a murder conviction and has faced several other attempted murder investigations and charges. Cook has been out of prison since 2001. He has been charged with first-degree murder in this case, in addition to several other counts, including being a habitual criminal. Authorities still have not released a motive for the slaying, according to a July 3 Denver Post article. Amos had apparently been living in the campground for a few weeks, and had alarmed other campers with his odd behavior.

Vince Matthews, director of the Colorado Geological Survey, said on June 28 that the survey emphasizes safety and defensive tactics for its mapping employees, but the focus has always been on wildlife. Since the murder, the survey has reiterated its directive that all field workers work in close pairs.

Megan Sever

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