Last year, when a man was killed after going down a trash chute in downtown Baltimore's Park Charles apartment building, residents grudgingly accepted the police conclusion that the death was a bizarre accident.
But after a recent Loyola University Maryland graduate — identified by police as 23-year-old Emily Hauze — died in a similar way Sunday, people who live in the Charles Center high-rise are not sure whether to believe that the deaths could be a tragic coincidence.
"You wouldn't think that it could happen again," said Phillip Flanders, a 26-year-old graduate engineering student at the Johns Hopkins University who has lived on the building's ninth floor through both deaths.
Residents say that it seems nearly impossible for a person to climb into the trash chute without help. The entrances are in rooms off each floor's main hallway. And the heavy, waist-high, spring-loaded doors — about 14 inches wide by 16 inches tall — open like ovens and close quickly.
"It's not like you could just fall in," said Allison Busby, a 25-year-old who moved out of the Park Charles in May. "The door would shut before I could even get my trash bag into it. It would slam shut. It was kind of a pain."
Baltimore police released few details of Hauze's death, and would not say what she was doing at the 26-story building or whether she suffered any injuries before she went down the chute.
Authorities also would not say on what floor she entered the trash chute; her body was found shortly after 8 a.m. in a first-floor trash bin. Detective Jeremy Silbert, a police spokesman, said a cause of death has not been determined.
Hauze, who grew up in Phoenixville, Pa., northwest of Philadelphia near Valley Forge, appears to have been a stellar student. She interned at several Pennsylvania elementary schools, teaching reading, and last year she graduated cum laude from Loyola in arts and elementary education, according to an online resume.
A university spokesman declined to offer any details about Hauze, but confirmed that she was a graduate. She was a member of Kappa Delta Pi, an honors society emphasizing education; a teacher who helps runs the group declined to talk about Hauze.
Friends and former classmates planned a small mass at a campus chapel Monday night but would not allow the media to attend.
The Park Charles opened in 1986, the final piece to the Charles Center development and, at the time, the newest attraction to the city skyline. The first tenants praised the central location, high ceilings and upscale service.
Since then, a grocery store has been added to the complex, along with some businesses, delis and coffee shops along an elevated plaza. The 252-unit building houses many graduate students.
In the past four years, three people have died at the building. In 2008, police said a man jumped from his 19th-story apartment and landed on a balcony four stories above Charles Street. In August 2010, police said 30-year-old Harsh Kumar died after going down the garbage chute.
Police said Kumar somehow got into the chute on the 16th floor and slid to the trash compactor at street level. Police said Kumar, who worked for a technology company and attended the Johns Hopkins University, had no injuries except those consistent with the fall. The Medical Examiner's Office ruled his death an accident.
Hauze's death — coming just over a year after Kumar's — has made residents suspicious.
Busby, who lived at Park Charles for three years, said shoving a body into the chute would be difficult, because the door was hard to keep open. Going in on one's own, even intentionally, would be a stunning feat, she said.
"If someone did manage to crawl inside, for God knows what reason, the chute door would close on you by the time you got your shoulders inside, and again two or three more times as you shimmied your body into it," she said.
Recalling the explanation for Kumar's death, Busby said, "We were definitely concerned and thought it was extremely sketchy."
Scant information from police and the building's management isn't helping assuage the residents' suspicions. The property manager, Kisha Peterson, wrote residents that "an isolated incident occurred on the community" and that "we have no details at this time that we are able to release."
That angered Edouard S. Mutabazi, a professional photographer who has lived in the building for 14 months. "Don't insult our intelligence," he said. "It happened last year. Management sent us the same letter, and never told us the results of the investigation."
Without details, speculation has taken over. "Some people think it was someone who knew what happened last year and wanted to do it again," Mutabazi said. "Others are asking, 'Is there a serial killer in the building?'"
David Hillman, the head of Southern Management Corp., which owns the Park Charles and is one of the largest residential property managers in the region, heard about the death from a reporter. He, too, was perplexed by how someone could get inside a trash chute.
"They are the smallest size they can be and still take trash," he said.
However, such incidents are not unheard of, according to news reports. On Oct. 11, a man was found dead after falling down a trash chute from the ninth floor of a San Diego apartment building. Two years ago, a man fell 25 stories down a garbage chute in New York after jumping out of a cab without paying and running into a luxury apartment building. And last February, an Illinois man became stuck in a trash chute and suffocated.