EDINBURG — The Science Building at the University of Texas-Pan American will remain closed until noon Tuesday as investigators continue to search for clues in the death of a woman whose body was found at the foot of an external staircase Monday morning.
Campus police waited for the results of an autopsy scheduled for Monday evening to shed light on the circumstances surrounding the woman’s “suspicious” death, said university spokeswoman Sandra Quintanilla.
UTPA police, along with Edinburg officers and Texas Rangers, had yet to identify her as of 7 p.m. Monday, making it impossible to determine if she was part of the student body.
Construction workers found the female — believed to be in her early 20s — at the foot of an outdoor staircase shortly before 8 a.m., according to a news release from the campus.
Officers quickly roped off the area where a pool of blood could be seen and evacuated the building, canceling all its classes for the day.
Sophomore Beatrice Jaimez, 19, walked to her 8:45 a.m. biology class as officers began collecting evidence outside.
“I didn’t think anything of it,” she said.
It wasn’t until an officer stopped her as she made her way to the second floor of the Science Building, where her classroom is located, that she realized something strange was going on.
“He asked us to evacuate the building and sent us to the library for answers to our questions,” Jaimez said.
A large crowd of students gathered there, worried about classes, exams and pending assignments, she added.
Meanwhile, investigators searched the three-story building for evidence illuminating the cause and manner of the woman’s death.
They sent out a text message “Bronc Alert” to nearly 18,000 students, faculty and staff about 8:50 a.m. informing them about the situation and asking them to stay away from the structure located on the east side of the campus. Officials estimated about 20,000 people needed to know.
Police have yet to determine how the woman died, but were looking into the possibility of whether she fell to her death.
“If she jumped from the balcony, she may have crawled to an area on the south side of the stairs,” said Justice of the Peace Charlie Espinoza, who pronounced her dead at 8:45 a.m. and ordered an autopsy.
The woman appeared to be Hispanic with dark brown hair, he said. She wore a hooded sweatshirt and jeans, but did not carry identifying information.
Espinoza did not see any evidence of a possible stabbing or shooting, but he was not allowed to inspect the body as officers continued to gather evidence, he added.
By lunch time, most students on campus knew about the death. They spoke openly about several rumored theories circulating the school.
Some doubted the death could be the result of a suicide attempt, stating that death by jumping from a three-story building was not a guarantee.
“Maybe she inhaled some fumes, got dazed and fell over,” said Junior Chayan Rodriguez, 19.
The building’s third story houses some faculty offices and a research wing, he said. That information was also confirmed by campus officials.
Officers could be seen dusting the metal railing on the third-story balcony for fingerprints.
Other students feared foul play.
“I hope whoever did this pays,” said a 22-year-old international student who did not wish to be identified. “I hope they give us some more details. Some of the girls are freaking out.”
Jaimez said she was one of the worried ones.
“What I’m concerned about is at night,” she said. “The lighting here is really bad. I walk by myself (after a night class) and it’s scary.”
Several students pointed out the need for security cameras on campus.
Police said were none pointing toward the spot where the corpse was found.
Administrators have yet to decide when to reopen the Science Building, Quintanilla said. It was to remain closed until at least noon. Information regarding afternoon classes was to be posted on the school’s website at www.utpa.edu by 9 a.m.
UTPA’s Counseling and Psychological Services is also making staff available to the university community in light of the death — the first reported there since 1996.
A female student drowned at the campus June 13 that year and a faculty member died Oct. 28 from heart-related health issues.
Naxiely Lopez covers law enforcement and general assignments for The Monitor. She can be reached at email@example.com and (956) 683-4434.
Follow Naxiely Lopez on Twitter: @Naxiely