By Miles Flynn | The Broadside (Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Central Oregon faced a tragedy in July of 2016 in the sexual assault and murder of Kaylee Sawyer on the Central Oregon Community College Bend campus. With an episode of Dateline centered on that story, many students are learning about this incident for the first time, or in more detail than before, with questions arising about the case and what has happened since.
Sawyer was the victim of an event that grabbed more public attention after the late-April broadcast of the Dateline episode, which detailed the murder and ensuing crimes as well as the developments in legal proceedings involving the perpetrator, Campus Public Safety Officer Edwin Lara.
“It was crazy seeing the school I go to on TV in that context. Before the Dateline episode, I had heard about the story from friends and the news, but I didn’t know any of the details,” student Nick Bailey said.
Despite the crimes occurring on campus, by a member of Campus Public Safety, COCC “was not asked for a response [by Dateline]. This is the first time we’ve been asked,” said Ron Paradis, executive director of college relations for the college.
“When I go back to July of 2016, words can’t express the sympathy we feel for the family of Ms. Sawyer. Obviously this was a horrific incident that was troubling for all of us; to know that happened on our campus and that one of our employees was the one who has been convicted,” Paradis said.
Specifically in regards to the Dateline piece, Paradis said that “even though there were some things I didn’t know, I don’t think there was anything that would further impact the college. The college didn’t play into the portrayal very much,” he said. He also acknowledged that the piece featured more of the family of Sawyer and the community than the college itself.
CPS has been its own department since 2010, having undergone significant changes since 2016. Since then, CPS no longer has flashing blue lights on their cars, as were present at one point, and the metal structures separating the front and back seats in two of the SUVs have been removed. These changes came, according to Paradis, “in response to conversations we’ve had with the Bend Police Department and the district attorney.”
“Our vehicles look different than they used to; our attempt is to look less like police, but still have the necessary look so that students can recognize them as campus security,” Paradis added.
As new students continue to enter COCC, the college will be working toward a safer environment for learning and a public security team that students can go to for help. Campus Public Safety is located in the Boyle Education Center. ■