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Carolina Journal News Reports

Killings Shock Wilmington Campus

Debate grows about criminal-background checks for students

Jul. 12th, 2004
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CHAPEL HILL — In the span of a month, two killings have shocked the college community at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, leading to questions regarding the UNC system’s admission policies as well as campus security.

In both cases, the accused murderers allegedly stalked their UNCW-student victims before killing them.

In May, 18-year-old Cary native Jessica Faulkner was found strangled inside her dormitory room on the last day of school. Faulkner was preparing to go home for the summer. Curtis Dixon, a 21-year-old classmate from Charlotte, was arrested and charged with her murder. Dixon allegedly had been stalking Faulkner before her murder, trying to pursue a romantic relationship with her. He also faces rape and other charges.

Then on June 4, 22-year-old Christen Naujoks, originally from Ohio, was found shot to death in front of her apartment building. She had been shot 11 times.

A former boyfriend, John Peck, 28, was wanted in connection with her death. Naujoks had believed Peck was stalking her after she broke off their relationship. A manhunt that covered several states and included officers in Ohio ended in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. After a shootout with police, Peck shot himself and died before his SUV tumbled down a ravine.

Apart from both being suspected of stalking their victims before murdering them, Dixon and Peck shared something else in common. They were both accused of lying on their college application in order to get into college. Both covered up their criminal histories in order to gain admission into UNCW.

According to The Associated Press, Dixon did not disclose a misdemeanor larceny conviction on his application. Peck omitted that he had pleaded guilty in November 2001 to assaulting a female and other charges. Peck’s girlfriend said he had raped her at gunpoint.

Peck remained enrolled at UNC-Wilmington until the school was made aware of the apparent lack of disclosure of his criminal history. Peck was eventually expelled from UNC-Wilmington.
When the Wilmington Star approached Peck about the lie, he admitted to it.

“I said ‘Yeah,’ otherwise I wouldn’t have gotten in,” he told the paper.

Such is the case with most of the campuses within the UNC system, UNC-Wilmington, in its application, asks its applicants whether they had been convicted of anything more than a traffic violation. There is no requirement for an applicant to submit a criminal background check.

“This is standard practice in universities all across the country,” UNC-Wilmington spokeswoman Mimi Cunningham told the newspaper. “We rely on the honor of our students.”

UNCW Professor Mike Adams, who teaches criminal justice and writes for TownHall.com, thinks a university should be able to obtain criminal background checks on its applicants. Adams took the stance in a recent column he wrote after Naujoks’ death.
“UNC-Wilmington needs to perform criminal background checks on all of its students instead of taking them at their honor in the application process,” Adams wrote in his June 9 column.

“And, of course, they need to do the background checks before the students arrive on campus. While it was appropriate to expel John Peck for lying about his criminal past, it should have been done before he was actually admitted to the university, not after he was admitted and began stalking a fellow student.”

There are some problems, however, in obtaining a criminal background check, UNCW Chancellor Rosemary DePaolo said at a recent press conference.

“The issue is complex,” DePaolo said. “We have students from around the nation and all over the world. To do thorough and complete background checks would require searching beyond the reach of [North Carolina] court records.”

DePaolo announced the formation of a task force to investigate the issue of criminal background checks as well as overall campus security. The task force is to complete a report by Dec. 17.

UNC spokeswoman Joni Worthington said that UNC President Molly Broad is also forming a task force concerning the issue, one that will include representatives from all 16 affiliated institutions to look at safety on campus. It will be chaired by Dr. Bobby Kanoy, who works within UNC General Administration.

Kanoy was out of his office and could not be reached for comment for this story.

“As you are aware, issues of campus violence are not unique to the UNC-Wilmington campus,” DePaolo said. “In fact these issues are common to all UNC system universities, as well as to campuses throughout the country. Unfortunately, we now have the experience to allow us to serve as the lead institution for all of the UNC campuses to help try to solve these problems.”

Worthington said the task force will look into the feasibility of requiring a criminal background check on campus. “We are always reviewing issues regarding safety across the system,” Worthington said.

Adams thinks a criminal background check should not be hard to obtain.

“The twin issues of financial and time constraints are simply moot,” Adams wrote. “All we need to do is require the students pay for their own background checks and submit them with their applications. ... But most students would gladly pay that small additional cost to get the extra security it will bring to them and their fellow students.”

Adams thinks a required criminal background check would have saved Faulkner’s life. It’s hard to tell, he said, what kind of impact the background checks would have had on Naujoks’ situation, since Peck lived in the Wilmington area.

DePaolo said she was concerned over whether institutions would be able to obtain a complete report. “The majority of our incoming students have just reached the age of no longer being legally considered a juvenile, and as you know, the records of juveniles are sealed and therefore unavailable to us,” DePaolo said.

Another concern is the response of campus security officers. UNCW campus security was aware of Naujoks’ situation with Peck before the shooting death occurred.

According to UNCW Campus Police Chief David Donaldson, campus police were first made aware of a situation involving Naujoks and Peck in March. At that time, Naujoks’ mother, Holly, called campus police to discuss the situation. They advised her to have her daughter contact the office, which she did later that day.

Donaldson said Naujoks reported to police that Peck had made harassing calls to her home and had threatened to commit suicide. She was advised to talk to the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Department since her apartment was outside the campus police’s jurisdiction.

In the days to come, Naujoks reported an incident that occurred on a campus parking lot. She eventually received a protective order. Throughout the process, Donaldson said, police advised her of the limits of the campus judicial system since the most serious offenses occurred off campus.

“At the time Christen was killed, she had in place the strongest protection available to her,” Donaldson told The Associated Press. “I don’t know anything else we could have done.”

DePaolo said university police and other campus resources responded as well as possible in Naujoks’ case. Naujoks was also receiving support from the campus Counseling Center.

According to the UNCW’s campus police Web site, the department has 29 employees, including officers and other staff members.
“Even though I am appreciative of what we do currently, I believe we can do more,” DePaolo said.

In Faulkner’s case, a 911 transcript from New Hanover County shows that Faulkner’s father, John, was worried about the response time of UNCW police, after he received a call from a man who claimed to have killed his daughter. The elder Faulkner was unaware, according to the Wilmington Star, that her body had already been found.

“They’re not moving fast on this,” Faulkner told the dispatcher. “I could give a damn about the suspect. I want to know about the status of my daughter.”

Shannon Blosser is a contributing editor of Carolina Journal.