Steffey family pushes for change through scholarships, missing persons legislation

Bloomington residents want son’s story to help others

Editor's note: This article is the second in a two-part series. The first ran on Friday, April 20.

Getting through the grief together is something Dale Steffey and Dawn Adams have been doing since the day they found out their son Wade Steffey was missing.

Together, they are continuing efforts to make campus safety a priority – especially on Purdue’s campus after they heard their son had been found dead there. Last Friday marked the one-month anniversary of the discovery of Wade’s body.

Their son’s body was identified March 20 after being discovered the day before in a high-voltage utility room. His electrocution was ruled accidental after it was discovered he was trying to recover his jacket, which he had left inside a dorm. The high-voltage utility closet room which he entered was unlocked and not labeled as dangerous. Wade Steffey died instantaneously when the tip of his finger touched a 2400-volt current of electricity, Dale Steffey said during a news conference the day Purdue confirmed Wade Steffey’s body had been found. The coroner’s office believed he was blindly using his hands to feel where he was in the pitch-black room.

The phone call from Purdue University Police Chief Gary K. Evans was described by Dale Steffey as something he “wanted to get, but didn’t.” He said his knees buckled when he was told the news – the same way they buckled when Evans called a month earlier explaining they found a body in the river, but not Wade Steffey’s.

“I was hoping it wasn’t Wade somehow,” Steffey said. “But we knew.”

Dale Steffey believes that his son’s story not only tells of the plight of missing young males, but is also “screaming in the headlines” about campus safety. Steffey would not speak of the legalities of a possible lawsuit instead but said, “For anybody to say that their campus in not inherently an unsafe place, belongs to the past.”

Kelli Keller, Dale Steffey’s niece and an Indianapolis-based lawyer, said that if money were something that was to come out of a possible lawsuit, then the money would not go to the Steffey family, but instead, be put directly into the Wade Steffey Memorial Fund.

In an April 16 press release, the Steffey’s announced the “Memorial Fund is awarding four $1,000 scholarships, two each at Bloomington High School South and Bloomington High School North.”

The scholarships, which are being awarded only to graduating seniors who will be attending Purdue this fall as freshman, would be based on a two-page essay about “friendship and what it means to me.” In the press release, Dale Steffey said, “Wade had so many friends, and friendship is vitally important to young people. Many, many people have helped us, and this is the beginning of our giving back to others.”

The announcement comes as no surprise. The Steffey family has already made a commitment to help other families find their missing loved ones sooner than current missing persons’ policies allow

When Wade was still missing in February and the search for him was in progress, the Steffeys went to the Indiana Statehouse to testify in favor of Molly’s Bill, named after Molly Dattilo. Dattilo disappeared July 2004 while attending summer classes at IU-Purdue University at Indianapolis and her case remains unsolved. The bill would make it easier for missing persons to be found by labeling them a “high-risk missing person.” This shift in classification would change the way police look at missing person cases for those not protected by the AMBER Alert System, which helps find missing children. This is model legislation brought through with the help of National Center of Missing and Exploited Children, Dale Steffey said. Two of Dattilo’s cousins have been pushing to get similar bills passed in other states through message boards on the Internet.

Dawn Adams’ eyes gleamed as she described how during the voting process, each of the Indiana senators voting in favor of the bill wanted their names added to the legislation to show support.

“When they voted for the bill, the senators said, ‘I’m going to vote for this and I want my name put on the bill.’ And the next one said, ‘I want my name put on the bill,’” Adams said. “And so all the senators on the committee got their names put on the bill. So, that made us feel like, ‘OK, I think this bill’s going to pass!’”

The bill was passed by both the Indiana House and Senate and is currently on the governor’s desk waiting to be signed into law, said the Steffeys.

The Steffeys said they feel Molly’s Bill may not have had the success it had without the publicity generated by their son’s story. Wade went missing during the bill’s introduction into the Indiana House. His story went national when Fox News, MSNBC and CNN reported his disappearance. The Steffeys, along with the Dattilo family, proved to Hoosiers around the state that this bill was critical in helping find young, missing adults.

Dawn Adams believes the passing of the bill is ironic because her son was missing when the bill was introduced. But Dale Steffey said he no longer believes in irony or coincidences.

“I stopped believing in coincidence about two months ago,” he said. “I think I’ve seen too many things happen.”

The Steffeys said they are still trying to move on with their lives. The process, to them, is progressing slowly. Still, Wade’s legacy is living on through their actions – through his memorial fund and through legislation that will help future families.

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