Elizabeth Howell murder: SUNY Potsdam cancels classes; off-campus shooting deemed 'random act of violence'

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Classes were canceled Monday at upstate New York’s SUNY Potsdam to allow students and faculty time to grieve following the fatal off-campus shooting of 21-year-old college senior Elizabeth Howell. 

Howell, a music education student at SUNY Potsdam’s Crane School of Music, was found lying on the side of College Park Road – just steps off campus – suffering from gunshot wounds before 6 p.m. Friday. She was rushed to Canton-Potsdam Hospital, where she was pronounced dead, police said. 

Michael J. Snow, 31, of Massena, New York, was arrested Saturday afternoon and charged with second-degree murder. Following an arraignment hearing in the Town of Potsdam Court, he was remanded to St. Lawrence County Jail with no bail. Snow was neither a student nor an employee nor a graduate of the institution, SUNY spokeswoman Alexandra Jacobs Wilke confirmed to Fox News Digital. 

Elizabeth Howell, a cellist with the Crane Symphony Orchestra, performing her freshman year in the Crane Candlelight Concert holiday performance in December 2018.

Elizabeth Howell, a cellist with the Crane Symphony Orchestra, performing her freshman year in the Crane Candlelight Concert holiday performance in December 2018.
(Jason Hunter/SUNY Potsdam )

Authorities have released few details about a potential motive. A preliminary investigation determined the shooting appeared to be an “isolated incident,” the St. Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office said Saturday. New York State Police appealed to the public on Sunday for information about anyone who may have spotted Snow or a gray Honda Civic bearing the New York registration KVE2731 between the hours of 5-8 p.m. Friday. 

A law enforcement source told Fox News Digital there was no relationship between the suspect and the victim and called it a “random act of violence.” The investigation is being conducted by campus, local, state police, the St. Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office, and the Department of Homeland Security. 

Monday is Presidents Day, a public holiday, but SUNY Potsdam would have still normally held class, Wilke said. Classes were canceled considering the recent tragedy. Over the weekend, counseling center staff held open drop-in hours for students and special sessions will be conducted Monday for particularly affected groups, such as students and faculty within the Crane School of Music. 

“We’re there to support all of our students and their families at this time. This is certainly a shock to our community,” Wilke told Fox News Digital. “It would be a shock to any campus community, but I believe the last homicide in the Village of Potsdam was seven years ago, and this is just a very uncommon occurrence for our community, which is why it is such a shock.” 

The suspect, Michael Snow, 31, of Massena, New York, is charged with one count of second-degree murder. On the date of the homicide, Snow was observed operating a gray Honda Civic bearing NY registration KVE2731. The vehicle has damage to the driver's side door.

The suspect, Michael Snow, 31, of Massena, New York, is charged with one count of second-degree murder. On the date of the homicide, Snow was observed operating a gray Honda Civic bearing NY registration KVE2731. The vehicle has damage to the driver’s side door.
(New York State Police)

Howell, who went by “Beth,” was a cellist who performed with the Crane Symphony Orchestra, SUNY Potsdam President Dr. Phil Neisser said in a message to students and colleagues Saturday. 

“She was an aspiring educator with a bright future ahead of her,” he wrote. “Please hold Beth, along with her family and loved ones, in your thoughts and prayers this evening. The entire SUNY Potsdam community mourns her loss, and we stand together in unity to remember her.”

Wilke said the school will review its security measures, even though the shooting happened off campus in the Village of Potsdam, a New York town about 30 miles from the Canadian border. 

“Since we’ve had an arrest, law enforcement are confident that there is no active threat. At the same time, we realize students and parents understandably have concerns and want to feel safe,” Wilke said. “We’re doing a full after-action report with our local police departments. We will do a review of all our security measures. We can’t control the conditions off the campus, but we can certainly work with our partners at the village. Separately, we have escorts that can help students get home or wherever they are going if they don’t feel safe, both through the police department and people just offering to help.” 

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Wilke said the university will be holding music therapy sessions and is planning a musical event to allow people to process grief and play pieces in Howell’s memory on Wednesday. It will not be a formal concert, to remove the pressure of perfect performance and little rehearsal time, Wilke said. A formal concert and other memorial events in Howell’s honor will be scheduled later in the semester. 

Campus resources, including the fitness center, library and student union, will remain open Monday, in order to give students some semblance of normalcy and an opportunity to come together, Wilke said. There is also a dedicated memorial space in Howell’s honor that continues to grow every day with flowers and mementos and notes, which will later be collected and given to Howell’s family, she added. 

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