Body Found in Purdue Dorm Utility Closet is That of Wade Steffey, Death Ruled Accidental

Purdue University officials said the school will conduct an independent investigation into exactly how freshman Wade Steffey entered a high-voltage area and died without anyone knowing about it for more than two months.

The Tippecanoe County coroner identified the body Tuesday as Steffey's and ruled his death as an accidental electrocution. Steffey's body was found slumped over machinery in a dormitory's high-voltage utility room by a maintenance worker investigating a "pinging" sound on Monday.

Steffey, a freshman from Bloomington, Ind., was last seen in the area Jan. 13 after he left a fraternity party.

"It is heartbreaking but it's also reassuring that all these other thoughts aren't realistic … those demons can go back where they came from and we can leave it where it is," Steffey's father, Dale, told reporters, referring to previous possibilities that his son was abducted, or killed by someone maliciously.

His mother, Dawn Adams, said the grief process is now beginning, long after they knew in their hearts that their son was dead.

"We strongly suspected that he was gone and now, our searching can cease," she said.

The coroner said Steffey's death was caused by a high-voltage electrocution. It's believed he tripped and fell behind the transformer, and that his body was out of view by anyone who may have searched the closet.

"The way the coroner described it to us, he would have been groping around behind one of these transformers" looking for light switch once he got locked inside the room, Dale Steffey said. The only dangerous spot in that whole room was where the wire contacts the transformer.

"Somehow he managed to get his finger into the one spot where he created an arc between the wire and the transformer. It would have been instantaneous," Dale Steffey said.

University officials say they will conduct an independent investigation into how Steffey could have entered a room through two locked doors. The ground-level utility room is not accessible from Owen Hall, which houses the closet, and is locked with two sets of keys, one each for two sets of doors.

"The search for Wade Steffey is over but the search for answers continues," campus spokeswoman Jeanne Norberg told reporters Tuesday, calling his death "tragic."

Steffey's parents said that while they are relieved their son has finally been found, they look forward to finding out exactly how he got into the dangerous room.

"We have the answer now, the big answer, to where our son is," said Steffey's mother, Dawn Adams. "Now everyone who was praying for us can have a measure of peace ... This affects so many more people than us. Now there is grief."

"It's been an incredible two months, it's been very difficult but we've been very humbled by the outpouring of support, the level of concern. We're thankful today more than anything, we're just thankful that we have our son," added Dale Steffey, Wade's father.

"This investigation's not over ... we don't know why that was able to occur," he added, referring to how Wade was able to enter the outer door to the utility closet, before it locked behind him, trapping him inside. "The police are still investigating."

The area around Owen Hall had been repeatedly searched after Steffey was reported missing, and maintenance staff had opened the utility room, but Norberg said they didn't fully inspect the interior because of the risk posed by the high-voltage equipment.

He said the last calls his son made were to friends in the dorm building. He apparently had left his jacket there and was trying to get back in to retrieve it.

Purdue spokesman Phillip Fiorini said the body was removed Monday afternoon from the high-voltage utility room in Owen Hall a few hours after it was discovered.

The coed residence hall, which houses about 700 students, is near the last reported location of Steffey, 19, who vanished Jan. 13.

Steffey was last seen leaving a fraternity party on the north side of campus.

Steffey was reported missing after friends returned from the school's three-day break for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday and could not find him.

Norberg said earlier that the body was discovered after someone heard a "pinging" noise coming from inside the room and called the campus utility department, asking it to investigate.

"The utility worker went in and found a body in this room. It's a high-voltage area," Norberg said. "She was traumatized. It's a very difficult situation for her."

Power was cut to the residence hall while the body was removed from what she described as a transformer room filled with high-voltage connections.

Campus officials have staged several searches for Steffey, the most recent one on Sunday when about 60 volunteers, assisted by dogs, conducted a ground search.'s Liza Porteus and The Associated Press contributed to this report.