WEST LAFAYETTE -- Purdue University freshman Wade Steffey died from high-voltage electrocution after accidentally entering a high-voltage room outside Owen Hall on Jan. 13, Purdue spokeswoman Jeanne Norberg said at a news conference this morning.
The two-month search for the 19-year-old Bloomington native concluded when Steffey’s body was found in the room Monday afternoon. His identity was confirmed around 10 a.m. Tuesday at a news conference after the Tippecanoe County Coroner’s office completed an autopsy Monday night.
Steffey died instantly after entering an outside door in the high-voltage room, which was unmarked, Norberg said.
She said she was told it was not required to have the outside door marked. Steffey couldn’t get into the hall because he didn’t have his pass key, she said. Investigators believe as he tried to open doors around the hall, he found this room. Though the room has two doors, the outside one was unmarked and unlocked when Steffey entered, she said.
“He tripped and fell behind the transformer and was believed to have died instantaneously,” Norberg said.
The room was not searched during several blanket searches of the campus in the last two months because only the building’s utility staff has the key to access it, Norberg said. Though the room was looked into during a search, no one thoroughly searched through the room and Steffey was not visible from either door, she said. Police found the outside door to the room shut but not locked, she said.
“They would have had to shut off the entire power in the building to go into this room,” she said.
Wade Steffey’s parents, Dale Steffey and Dawn Adams, remained glossy-eyed as they addressed the media’s comments.
“It’s been an incredible two months,” Dale Steffey said. “It’s been difficult, but we’ve been humbled by the outpouring of support and are just thankful today ... thankful that we have our son.”
Steffey was last spotted outside the dorm just before he entered the room about 50 yards from where his body was found, Norberg said.
“Somehow he managed to get his finger in the one spot where he created an arch between the wire and the transformer,” Dale Steffey said. He said they would have to wait until the end of the investigation before thinking about any legal action against the university.
Utility workers at the residence hall were alerted by someone in the dorm that a noise was coming from the room that was described as a "pinging" or "popping” noise, Norberg said.
“It’s been what 63, 64 days?” Dale Steffey said “It is heartbreaking. ... But it’s also reassuring that all these other thoughts are not realistic ... those demons can go back where they came from.”
Dawn Adams said she is relieved and grateful the searching is over.
“Now our searching can cease and everyone else who is thinking and praying for us can have a measure of peace,” she said.
Funeral arrangements were made with Allen Funeral Home in Bloomington, Dale Steffey said.
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