Police revealed few details Monday about the brutal attack that left a Goshen professor dead and his wife recovering from injuries sustained in an apparent home invasion early Sunday.
James S. Miller, a biology professor with Goshen College since 1980, died at the scene after he and his wife Linda were attacked by an intruder in the couple’s home, Goshen police reported. The Miller residence is two blocks east of Goshen College at 1736 Wildwood Court.
Mrs. Miller’s injuries were not believed to be life-threatening.
The attack happened just after 1 a.m. Sunday. Police have not identified any suspects.
An autopsy conducted Monday revealed James Miller suffered “multiple blunt force and sharp force trauma,” according to Elkhart County Coroner John White. The death has been ruled a homicide.
White told The Associated Press he didn’t know what object might have been used to inflict the injuries. He said authorities aren’t releasing yet where on Miller’s body the injuries occurred.
The Millers have three children, two of whom still live at home. None of the children were home at the time of the attack.
Police were alerted to the assault by Mrs. Miller, who called 911 and said she had been attacked by a white male. She suffered numerous wounds and was hospitalized.
Police said the attacker fled the scene before officers arrived.
Investigators spent Monday collecting evidence from the Millers’ ranch-style home. Crime tape circled the entire house and a police investigation van parked in the driveway appeared nearly full Monday morning as police combed through the house and occasionally removed items.
Gay Lehman, who lives on the corner of Wildwood and Mervin Street, said she and her husband Sanford quickly realized something had happened Sunday morning, in part because of a barking dog.
“He heard the noise and we went out. By the time we could even call 911, police were here,” Lehman said.
Police said officers were notified of the 911 call at 1:06 a.m. and arrived at the scene two minutes later.
Details about Mrs. Miller’s condition were not readily available Monday.
A website for Clinton Frame Mennonite Church, where the family attends, indicated her condition was stable and that she was a patient at Memorial Hospital of South Bend. However, a spokesperson for the hospital said no patient by that name was at the facility.
‘You don’t expect it at all’
Wildwood Estates has been virtually crime-free since it was developed about 16 years ago, according to neighbors.
“That’s why this has taken all of us completely by surprise,” Gay Lehman said. “You don’t expect it at all.”
She also described Jim Miller as a gentle soul.
“He wouldn’t hurt a fly,” Lehman said.
John Ingold, a retired Goshen College professor and coach, said he knew James Miller even before they became neighbors 11 years ago because of their work at the college.
Ingold said they occasionally went golfing together and often talked about sports when they’d see each other outside their homes. He said Miller was a big sports fan and enjoyed building model airplanes.
“He had a lot to contribute yet,” Ingold said. “...It’s just so senseless. The situation is really sad because I knew him and his family really well.”
A small floral arrangement was left at the corner of the Millers’ front yard Monday. Placed in between the sunflower blooms and Gerbera daisies was a handwritten note with a simple message: “You’re in our prayers.”
With the attacker still at large as of Monday, some local residents expressed concern about public safety. One woman called The Goshen News editorial department asking if it was safe to be walking around the neighborhood near the Miller home.
Likewise, Goshen police said they received several calls from people concerned about their safety. Police offered the following statement:
“We encourage residents now, as always, to follow safety measures such as locking your doors, (not walking) at night alone, and reporting any suspicious activity.
“You know your neighbors and your neighborhood. You know who belongs there. If something feels wrong, call for our assistance. We are here for the residents of Goshen.”
Authorities are asking anyone with knowledge regarding the crime to call Goshen police at 533-8661 or the Michiana Crime Stoppers at 1-800-342-STOP or 288-STOP.
Home invasions and murders are a rarity in Goshen.
As far as Goshen Police Chief Wade Branson can remember, the only other home invasion that led to a homicide in his time on the force was Brooke Doriot.
Doriot, 39, a teacher at Goshen Middle School, was murdered July 8, 1996, in her Bashor Road home by Gerald W. Schlabach, a homeless man. He cut through her screen door, unlocked the door and stabbed Doriot several times.
Schlabach was caught not too long after the stabbing in the 600 block of Indiana Avenue by Goshen Ptl. Robert Warstler.
Schlabach later pleaded guilty to murdering Doriot in exchange for the prosecuting attorney not filing a request for the death penalty. He received a life term in prison on Aug. 29, 1996, without the possibility of parole.
A funeral service for Mr. Miller is still being arranged.
Goshen News Staff Writer Sheila Selman contributed to this report.