Suspect held in student's death

Published October 15, 2006

BURLINGTON, Vt. - A man under investigation in the death of a University of Vermont student was being held without bail on unrelated charges Saturday while an autopsy was performed on the victim.

Brian L. Rooney, a construction worker from Richmond with a record of several arrests, was taken into custody Friday, the same day hikers found the body of Michelle Gardner-Quinn near Huntington Gorge, a popular swimming hole.

Gardner-Quinn had disappeared nearly a week earlier while walking to her dormitory.

The cause of her death was not released. The autopsy was Saturday but results would not be released this weekend, said police Lt. Kathleen Stubbing. She said it would likely be at least a week before any charges can be brought in the case.

A memorial service for Gardner-Quinn was scheduled for tonight at the University of Vermont in Burlington.

Rooney, 36, was arrested Friday on unrelated charges of sex abuse elsewhere in Vermont. He was jailed without bail, pending a Monday arraignment. He has not been charged in Gardner-Quinn's case, but is considered a suspect in her disappearance and death, police Chief Thomas Tremblay said.

Gardner-Quinn, 21, of Arlington, Va., was last seen alive in the early morning of Oct. 7 as she walked up Main Street after celebrating a friend's birthday at downtown bars.

Authorities said she had earlier asked Rooney to borrow his cell phone to make a call. She made the call and was seen, on surveillance video from a jewelry store camera, walking alongside Rooney.

Gardner-Quinn was reported missing later that day.

Because of the surveillance video, Rooney had been the focus of the investigation.

Rooney faces charges of sexual assault in Caledonia County, 80 miles north of Burlington, and of lewd and lascivious conduct with a child in Essex County, where he previously lived, authorities said.

His stepfather said Saturday he doesn't believe Rooney was involved in Gardner-Quinn's disappearance.

"We've got all the faith in the world in him," said Ronald Skinner, whose Richmond home was searched Tuesday as part of the investigation.

According to court records and interviews, Rooney has had minor scrapes with the law. He had been arrested several times for driving without a license and once for disorderly conduct.

He has also had arrests for leaving the scene of an accident and burglary.