Outside the Goshen College science building here Sunday night, a place where James S. Miller had helped mold and guide young minds for roughly 30 years, several hundred stunned mourners gathered with the flickering glow of candlelight bouncing off their faces.
They sang. They prayed. And they shared memories of how Miller and his family touched their lives.
Miller, 58, was killed early Sunday morning during a home invasion, according to Goshen police, at 1736 Wildwood Court in a neighborhood practically within shouting distance of the GC campus. Miller’s wife, Linda, was also home during the invasion and was seriously injured, police said, before she managed to call 911.
As the vigil drew to a close, GC President Jim Brenneman took a moment to put into words the collective grief felt by so many in the college and greater Goshen community on Miller’s behalf.
“We are deeply saddened by the events of the past 24 hours,” Brenneman said. “Tonight we had an experience here in front of our science building in which we gathered together a large crowd to sing hymns and to light candles, because we believe deeply that as we light these candles we do so in remembrance and recognition and with a profound belief that light overcomes darkness. And so we lit them and we hold them up as a light to the family, and particularly for Professor Miller, and we pray for God’s light in his life.”
Chain of events
The alleged attack occurred around 1 a.m., according to police reports. Goshen police were dispatched to the Miller home at 1:06 p.m., and arrived at the normally quiet neighborhood east of the college campus just a few minutes later. Mrs. Miller had called 911 and told police there was a robbery in progress and that she had been attacked by a white male suspect.
According to a GPD press release, Mrs. Miller had been struck by an unknown object. Before police could arrive the suspect fled the scene, the press release stated.
Mrs. Miller was initially taken to IU Goshen Hospital and later transported to Memorial Hospital in South Bend. A nursing supervisor at Memorial said Sunday night that she had no information on a patient named Linda Miller.
James Miller was pronounced dead at the scene as a result of his injuries.
Police have not elaborated on the description of the white male subject and have not said what type of weapon may have been used during the attack. Police did not release any new information since their initial press release at 7:35 a.m., Sunday. Police spokeswoman Tina Kingsbury said Sunday that the investigation was continuing. Police also did not say if they had any leads in the case.
Elkhart County Coroner John White said that Miller’s “manner of death” was a homicide, but has yet to determine a cause of death.
“Until the autopsy (Monday),” White said Sunday afternoon, “I’m a little reluctant to rule on the actual cause.”
Meanwhile, the Goshen College community is struggling to make sense of this tragedy.
Colleague Jason Samuel said he just saw Miller around 2 p.m. Saturday.
“Who knew that he was going to have 11 hours to live?” said Samuel, general manager of the Goshen College radio station WGCS.
Samuel recalled Miller as a sweet and intelligent man. The two also had something in common besides Goshen College: Miller had some back problems, and Samuel had recently hurt his tailbone. And Samuel said he and Miller had recently been talking more often.
“We actually spent more time talking this year probably than the previous eight years combined,” Samuel said. “...I’m glad I got to spend that time with him.”
That time is gone, and Samuel said he is shocked by Miller’s death.
“It’s senseless,” he said Sunday afternoon.
Miller, who received his undergraduate degree in chemistry from Bluffton (Ohio) University, first came to GC to teach in 1980. That same year he completed his doctorate degree in medical biochemistry at Ohio State University, Goshen College staff reported.
The Goshen College Board of Directors granted Professor Miller tenure in June 1985. He primarily taught upper-level courses taken by students in nursing, pre-medical and other health-related tracks.
He was described by one student as “tough,” but “effective.”
“Words cannot adequately convey our grief over the enormity of this tragedy,” Brenneman wrote in a letter to the campus community Sunday. “We offer our prayers and support to the Miller and Jeschke families and we ask that you please keep them in your prayers. We also will be holding in our prayers Professor Miller’s students, colleagues, friends and alumni.”
Brenneman said Miller’s current students would be contacted to make arrangements for his classes.
Miller is survived by his wife, Linda, three children, his mother and other family members, Brenneman said.
Police have asked anyone with information in connection with the case to contact the Goshen Police Department at (574) 533-8661 or the Michiana Crime Stoppers at (800) 342-STOP.
Staff Writer Scott Weisser contributed to this report.