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Report: Harvard Student in Murder-Suicide Made Plea for Help

May 28, 1996 GMT

BOSTON (AP) _ A Harvard student who stabbed her roommate to death and then killed herself last year wrote a desperate appeal for help two years before the murder-suicide, but university officials never responded to it.

Sinedu Tadesse fatally stabbed 20-year-old Trang Ho one year ago Tuesday in the dormitory room they shared. Tadesse, also 20, was found hanging from a rope in the shower.

After the tragedy, Harvard officials said Tadesse had never indicated that she needed any help.

But The New Yorker magazine reported in this week’s issue that during the summer following her freshman year, the Ethiopian pre-med student wrote a letter to a Harvard law student whose name she said she picked out of a campus telephone directory.

``I am desperate,″ said the letter, which was forwarded to a dean and placed in Tadesse’s file. ``As far as I can remember, my life has been hellish ... Year after year, I become lonelier and lonelier.″

The magazine reported that two university officials who knew Tadesse read the letter, but neither one discussed it with her.

In a prepared statement released Monday, Harvard officials defended their actions.

``Based on what we knew then, we remain confident that appropriate steps were taken,″ the statement read.

Melanie Thernstrom, the story’s author and a Harvard graduate and instructor, said she found the university had carefully orchestrated its reaction to the highly publicized tragedy, even threatening the job of a tutor who spoke with her about the case.

``Doubtless on legal advice, the university, which has 11 in-house lawyers, adopted a policy of spin control, which meant that many people were extremely reluctant to talk to me,″ wrote Thernstrom.

University spokesman Joe Wrinn said the tutor and others who knew Tadesse had been advised they were under no obligation to speak with the media, but were not banned from doing so.

Tadesse attacked Ho in her bed, stabbing her 45 times. She also injured another woman who was visiting Ho and tried to intervene.

Tadesse apparently was depressed because Ho, a junior pre-med student and native of Vietnam, had informed her she had chosen other roommates. Tadesse’s family denied at the time that she was lonely or depressed.

``It doesn’t sound like her; it sounds like the opposite of her,″ Seiffe Tadesse, Sinedu’s older brother, told The Boston Globe about a week after the murder-suicide.

But Tadesse revealed in journal entries obtained by The New Yorker that she was friendless and socially awkward. At one point, she wrote out numbered instructions to solve problems such as what to discuss over dinner.