University of Arkansas, Fayetteville shooting
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On August 28, 2000, a disgruntled graduate student at the University of Arkansas shot and killed his faculty advisor and committed suicide shortly afterwards in the first incident of its type in the university's history.
The murder-suicide occurred on the first day of the Fall 2000 semester shortly after noon when James Easton Kelly, 37, a recently dismissed PhD candidate in the university's Comparative Literature program entered the office of Dr. John R. Locke, 67, the director of the Comparative Literature program and Kelly's former academic advisor. At approximately 12:14 pm, Kelly shot Dr. Locke three times with a .38 caliber handgun using bullets he had purchased about 45 minutes earlier. Graduate students and faculty in adjoining offices quickly alerted campus police whose officers reached Locke's office and secured the area within a few minutes. Finding Locke's office door closed and locked, they conversed for a few minutes with an individual inside the office before another gunshot was heard after which no further contact was made with anyone in the office. A SWAT team was activated and Kimpel Hall, the classroom-office building in which the shooting took place, was evacuated. Approximately an hour after the first officers arrived, police entered the office and found the bodies of Locke and Kelly with a handgun on the floor between them.
Subsequent investigation of the murder-suicide determined that Kelly was disgruntled due to his recent dismissal from the PhD program in Comparative Literature for which he blamed Locke (who had actually abstained from voting for Kelly's dismissal during a graduate committee review of his progress). A satchel containing letters from the committee and his dismissal notification were found with Kelly's body.
Kelly, an African-American Arkansas native, was the son of a minister and considered a career in the ministry himself before choosing to attend Grinnell College where he earned a BA in English in 1984. He subsequently earned an MA in English from Arkansas State University in 1990. He then enrolled in the PhD program in English at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville planning to study Afrian-American literature and the literature of the African diaspora. At first, he seemed a promising student, but eventually ran into academic difficulties and in 1996 twice failed his oral examination required for his English PhD. He subsequently accused departmental faculty of racist attitudes when they did not find his research subjects acceptable. However, Dr. Locke, despite warnings from colleagues that Kelly was aloof and unsociable, admitted him into the Comparative Literature PhD program because he thought that it might be more suitable to Kelly's academic interests. However, Kelly began enrolling in courses, but failing to attend them, and eventually Locke grew disappointed with the young man's increasingly unpredictable behavior.
John R. Locke, son of a Danish immigrant and a New York City native, had been teaching Comparative Literature, Mythology, and Eastern philosophy at the university since 1967. In 1979, he published a translation of nine of Rainer Maria Rilke's dramas and was working on a collection of Rilke's poems and letters at the time of his death. He also circulated among friends and colleagues a private unpublished manuscript of meditation guides called The Troika Technique—based on his readings and study of Buddhist and Taoist philosophy and Jungian psychology. He was regarded by colleagues, friends, and students as a wise and deeply spiritual man whose loss deeply impacted the campus community. Locke planned to retire at the end of the 2000-2001 academic year, which had just started on the day of his murder.
Reaction and followup
Following the tragedy, an impromptu shrine was created outside Locke's office and the university held an official memorial service on September 12, 2000. A year later, on August 27, 2001, Locke's colleagues and friends began collections to create a memorial garden outside Kimpel Hall in his honor. The memorial garden was completed and dedicated in September 2003. In 2006, Dr. Virginia Krauft, a Jungian psychologist and friend, opened the John Locke Memorial Library to house Locke's large collection of books on German, American, British, French, Russian, Irish, Italian, Asian, Japanese and Scandinavian literature and literary criticism along with studies in the sciences, visual arts and anthropology and several books on Eastern philosophy and religion.
- "U. Arkansas Deaths Murder-Suicide". CBS News. Retrieved 16 December 2012.
- Wilson, Robin (September 15, 2000). "The Murder of a Professor: A failed graduate student kills the scholar who gave him a second chance at a Ph.D". The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved 16 December 2012.
- Krauft, Virginia. "John Locke Memorial Library". Retrieved 16 December 2012.
- "MEMORIAL SERVICE SCHEDULED FOR JOHN R. LOCKE". Retrieved 16 December 2012.
- "LOCKE GARDEN MEMORIAL TO CELEBRATE LIFE AND CONTRIBUTIONS OF BELOVED PROFESSOR OF COMPARATIVE LITERATURE". Arkansas Newswire. Retrieved 16 December 2012.
- "Dedication Set For Garden To Commemorate Life And Legacy Of John Locke". Arkansas Newswire. Retrieved 16 December 2012.
- "Locke Garden". All Things Academic. University of Arkansas. Retrieved 16 December 2012.