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Paper trail helped tell story of Maryland cannibalism suspect

Any time a high-profile crime is committed, reporters want to start digging into the background of the suspect. It can not only reveal new insight into that individual but potentially expose failures in the system, which can serve as a guide for preventing future tragedy.

In the case of accused Maryland cannibal Alexander Kinyua, there were two main tracks to pursue: his own personal trail on social media, and his contacts with the criminal justice system and counselors at his school, Morgan State University.

Kinyua's only prior arrest had occurred just days before the killing. The Baltimore Sun pulled charging documents from court for a May 20 incident in which Kinyua was accused of beating a man with a baseball bat. Reporters also requested District Court audio of Kinyua's bail review hearing from that case in which his behavior was described as an "aberration" despite what would turn out to be a recent history of erratic behavior.

Campus police would not immediately release their report from that incident, but The Sun obtained it through sources. It showed that the weapon was not merely a Louisville Slugger but a bat wrapped in chains and barb wire. Reporters reached out to the victim in that case, who detailed the incident in his own words for a front page story.

Morgan State university police also declined to release a copy of a police report of an incident characterized by campus officials as a "destruction of property" and which had caused Kinyua to be dismissed from the ROTC program after more than two years of involvement. But The Sun again obtained a copy of a report the university wouldn't produce, showing officers had referred Kinyua for counseling and an ROTC instructor had described him as a "Virginia Tech waiting to happen" — an ominous statement that raised questions about the Morgan's response.

Earlier in the week, students had spoken to reporters and sent messages over Twitter recalling an incident in which Kinyua had made strange comments at a campuswide forum. The event was attended by the university president, police chief, and the chief judicial officer — to whom who Kinyua had been referred to after the destruction of property incident.

Reporters discovered the university had posted an edited video of the event on its web site in February, and the school was able to provide the raw footage that showed Kinyua's comments about blood sacrifices.

The university officials, as well as the school's Board of Regents, have so far declined to discuss any of the above incidents but say they are conducting a review.

For researching his online profile, the first destination was Kinyua's Facebook page, which contained various rants about ethnic cleansing, human sacrifice, and campus shootings. There were two QR codes — bar codes that unlock messages when scanned on a smart phone — but also photos of him participating in events related to his membership in the school's ROTC program and related fraternity. These provided a peek into his recent state of mind but also how, at least in the fall semester, he had appeared to be a normal student with friends who was engaged in activities on campus.

Justin Fenton

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