Chief: ‘Unpleasantries’ Were Exchanged Before Fatal Attack
WHEELING – The surviving victim of a fatal early Saturday beating told investigators Wheeling Jesuit University senior Kevin Figaniak had exchanged “unpleasantries” with one or more people not long before the two were attacked by several men on their way back to campus, Police Chief Shawn Schwertfeger said.
Police said they still have no suspects, and Schwertfeger said although that information provides an avenue of investigation, a motive remains undetermined. He said the survivor, who sustained minor injuries, is cooperating with the investigation but could identify neither the attackers nor those with whom Figaniak reportedly exchanged words.
Figaniak, 21, died in a Pittsburgh hospital at 3:05 a.m. Sunday, slightly more than 24 hours after several men jumped the two students near the intersection of Locust Avenue and National Road around 1:45 a.m. Saturday. Police said they had been walking back to campus after leaving a nearby bar.
Schwertfeger said an autopsy is scheduled for today in Morgantown. Although a full report could take some time, he said preliminary results should shed more light on exactly how Figaniak sustained the head trauma investigators believe caused his death. It also could reveal other injuries not apparent to investigators at the scene, he said.
The second victim – whom Schwertfeger declined to identify – reportedly described their attackers as three or four white men in their mid-20s. Two of the men had brown hair and wore blue jeans, while another wore a hat.
Detectives hope video surveillance cameras at a number of businesses may have captured footage in the area near the time of the attack. Police have had difficulty accessing that footage, however, as many businesses were closed for the long holiday weekend.
“That’s where the Labor Day weekend has caused us a bit of a delay,” Schwertfeger said.
Although no additional witnesses have come forward, Schwertfeger believes it’s likely there were others in the area when the attack took place and he’s holding out hope for a break. Anyone with information is urged to call him at 304-234-3664 or the detective division at 304-234-3781.
“I’m confident that we’ll get there, but there’s a lot of hard work between now and then,” he said.
Figaniak, a resident of Perkasie, Pa., about 35 miles north of Philadelphia, was a senior business major who played on WJU’s lacrosse and club hockey teams. Funeral arrangements are pending.
The university was limiting media access to campus Monday because of what it said was out of respect for students’ privacy.
Residents who live near the crime scene agree Figaniak’s death is a terrible tragedy. Their viewpoints differ, however, on how that tragedy has affected their perspective on their neighborhood.
Locust Avenue resident Carolyn Futey said she was surprised by the news of such a crime so close to where she lives.
“This is supposedly a safe neighborhood, and a very well-kept neighborhood. … It should not have happened here,” she said.
But Futey believes Saturday’s attack was an isolated incident and she said it hasn’t much changed her perspective on her surroundings.
“It’s still a safe neighborhood. … It’s a shame that somebody had to die, that’s all,” Futey said.
One woman and her husband, residents of Haddale Avenue who asked not to be identified, said their view of their neighborhood has become increasingly negative in recent years. The woman said she feels “heartsick” for Figaniak’s family, and believes police aren’t doing enough about problems that arise after nearby bars close for the night.
“It’s no wonder things happen. There’s just continuous trouble. … That’s a shame for this neighborhood, because we never used to have to deal with that,” she said.
The woman’s husband said he has a permit to carry concealed weapons, and he doesn’t hesitate to take his gun with him on an evening stroll through the neighborhood.
“If I get jumped, at least I’ve got a fighting chance,” he said.
Officials at other colleges reached out Monday to offer words of support to Figaniak’s family as well as Wheeling Jesuit.
“We are saddened by this tragedy and offer our sincere condolences to all members of the WJU campus community. Most especially, I would like to add my heartfelt sympathy to the Figaniak family on the loss of their son. We will keep WJU and the Figaniak family in our prayers during this difficult time,” said West Liberty University President Robin C. Capehart in a statement issued Monday.
Bethany College President Scott Miller expressed his sympathy Monday via social media.
“Bethany College extends condolences to the family and friends of senior Kevin Michael Figaniak on his death, as well as to the entire Wheeling Jesuit University campus community. We are deeply saddened by this tragedy, and know that WJU President Fr. James Fleming and the University are struggling to find answers. Bethany College sends thoughts of sympathy and prayers as they confront this tragic loss,” Miller said.