At approximately 2:20 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 15, Gregory Scott Turner — a criminology student at UC Irvine — was reported to have attempted to murder his wife, Ketra Batiste-Turner, by strangulation.
The event occurred in Turner’s Verano Place apartment, a UCI graduate student and family housing community located on California Ave. where Turner lived with his wife and two daughters (ages 5 and 7). Turner, 33, fled from the scene immediately following the incident and was reported missing upon police arrival.
It was later revealed that the suspect’s 7-year-old daughter who witnessed the strangulation called 911 and came to her mother’s aid. Two officers arrived on the scene at 2:23 p.m. and attempted to locate the suspect.
Later that afternoon, UC Irvine Police Department issued a zotALERT emergency alert informing community members and fellow UCI students of Turner’s escape. The message sent to UCI email accounts at 6:19 p.m. and 6:28 p.m. read:
“Grad student Gregory Turner wanted for attempt murder by strangulation. Turner fled scene in blue 2006 Chevy truck, CA lic 8P53538. Turner, wht. Male, 33 yrs, 6 ft, 225 lbs. Suspect involved in domestic violence incident.”
By 8:15 p.m., UC Irvine Police Department issued a press release recalling the incident and informing the community that Turner, still missing at this point, was alluding to suicidal tendencies in communication with a friend. The UCIPD press release attempted to assure residents of surrounding communities such as Arroyo Vista, Verano Place and Palo Verde by announcing that staff would “be conducting heavy police patrol of Verano Place Housing and the campus throughout the night and into the morning.”
Only a few days prior to the attempted murder, police were called to the Turner home for a similar incident of domestic violence on Thursday, Dec. 9, where Turner was booked on suspicion of assault. He was released the following Monday and returned to his Irvine home. Only two days passed before he attacked his wife in front of their two children. Batiste-Turner, 32, was taken to a nearby hospital and was released on Dec. 17. Upon her release, she was reunited with her two daughters, who had been placed in protective custody.
The story made statewide news in a manhunt for Turner, who was later found deceased in San Juan Capistrano. Turner was discovered inside his blue Chevrolet pickup truck behind an industrial building around 4:30 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 17. His location was discovered by UCI police officers through the GPS signal in Turner’s cell phone.
“They found him dead inside the truck from an apparent suicide,” said Tom Vasich, university spokesman.
Turner is survived by his two daughters and his former wife. Friends and family adamantly defend Turner on OC Weekly’s message board, saying he was “never a violent person” and that “he loved his daughters very much.”
Verano Place was also the scene of a tragedy that occurred back in September 2009 when UCI graduate student Brian Benedict murdered his ex-wife, Rebecca Benedict, in front of their 4-year-old son. After losing a custody battle, Benedict attacked his former wife on Sept. 13, 2009 with a hammer and as she attempted to flee the scene, shot the victim several times, killing her as their son watched. Brave neighbors physically restrained Mr. Benedict until police and paramedics arrived at the scene. Benedict faces a minimum sentence of 50 years in prison and is currently under trial for murder.
In light of these two events of domestic violence chillingly close together, students may question the safety at UCI. Yet the two incidents that took place in Verano Place reflect more deeply on the unstable relationships that seem to find community in student housing, rather than the safety of the university itself. UCI police urge the community to educate themselves on domestic violence and what to do if you are in an emergency situation. As of now, there is no real training or education provided by the university on domestic violence. One UCI police officer says that the residents of the Verano Place community should not be concerned for their safety unless they are in an abusive relationship.