Minimizing Your Risk

Editor's note: On Friday, October 13, the body of Michelle Gardner-Quinn was discovered by police near Huntington Gorge in Richmond. For the latest information on this sad story, please read the news article on

October 12, 2006

Because of the disappearance and suspected abduction of 21-year-old college student Michelle Gardner-Quinn at the University of Vermont, Burlington police hosted a couple of safety forums on and off campus — reminding students, especially women, how to minimize their risk of becoming victims of violent crimes.

Some of the suggestions are common sense, others may seem unnecessary, but all bear repeating.

Here is the Burlington PD's checklist of ways to better protect yourself:

1. Don’t get complacent, no matter how safe you think your town is.

2. Travel in groups or pairs, not alone.

3. Walk with confidence.

4. Always be aware of your surroundings.

5. If a situation gives you a funny feeling, trust your gut. Get away, or be loud to call attention to yourself.

6. Stick to well-lit, well-traveled streets or parking areas.

7. Walk with your keys in hand, and look into, around, and under your vehicle before you get in.

8. Walk toward the middle of the sidewalk, not too close to shrubs, walls, or potential hiding places.

9. If you think someone is following you, cross the street, move to the nearest group of people, or ask for help.

10. Keep purses and bags close to your body and don't carry too much stuff.

11. If someone tries to rob you, give up your valuables immediately.

12. If someone is following you in your car, drive to a police station or busy store or restaurant. Take down a plate number if you can. Call police if it won't compromise your safety.

13. Report suspicious behavior to police.

14. Minimize places around your home where people can hide, such as large plants or shrubs.

15. Keep windows and doors locked.

If all this seems too much to remember, stick with the first five, it won't hurt you, and it just might help.

October 11, 2006
Burlington, VT

I flew here on Tuesday afternoon to cover the search for missing college student Michelle Gardner-Quinn. When my producer and I landed, we hustled to our rental car, and headed straight for the University of Vermont.

A candlelight vigil was underway, surrounding a fountain in the center of a grassy quad. The stone ledge around the water was covered with candles and posters. One read, "I am scared." Another, "Why should you be concerned? It could happen to you."

The head of campus security was there, speaking to some of Michelle's closest friends. One was in tears, begging to be allowed to help with the search. The man was sympathetic, but told her untrained hands could spoil potential evidence. Still, he said he'd look for ways to get her and others more involved, and today volunteers are joining a search of the Hill area where Michelle was last seen.

A young man also pleaded passionately for access, and answers. "School doesn't matter, jobs don't matter; this is all that matters right now. This is all we care about."

I waited until the gathering broke up, and then talked to the student. He said his name was Tommy Lang, Michelle's ex-boyfriend, and he didn't want to go on camera. Tommy told me he had been interviewed by police and was speaking with them regularly, but he didn't want to jeopardize the investigation by going on camera, and didn't want to lose access to the detectives. Today, one of our producers caught up with Tommy again on campus, where he has joined others in searching for clues on the ground.

Police aren't saying much about the case, even in private conversations. Clearly, concern grows with each passing hour, but while many here fear the worst, no one is ready to give up on Michelle.

Rick Leventhal has been a New York-based correspondent with FOX News Channel (FNC) since June 1997. You can read his bio here.