Student describes late night break-in

Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of three articles concerning recent tragedies on UW System campuses.

It’s a different world out there now – a world where people can no longer sleep with their doors unlocked, keep their windows open or automatically trust everyone.

In light of the recent murder of 21-year-old UW-Madison student Brittany Sue Zimmermann, of Marshfield, and the series of break-ins in Eau Claire college residencies, officials and students say there are prevention steps people can take.

“I lifted the covers up . he was just in my bed staring at me.”
Late one Saturday night last month, senior Michelle Stepaniak, her visiting 17 year-old sister, and her roommate arrived at their Chippewa Street home after spending time out with friends.

Stepaniak stepped out for about 30 minutes and when she came back inside, she said nothing seemed unusual until she got upstairs to find a jacket in the hallway.

She turned on the light in her room and found her sister and roommate were already sleeping, so she quickly turned it back off and went to the bathroom.

Little did she know that may have saved their lives.

She said she turned the light on once more to change into her pajamas and noticed something unusual that time.

“That’s when I saw his feet,” she said.

Boots were coming out from the end of the bed her roommate and sister were sleeping in, she said, so she lifted the covers up.

“When I did that, he was just in my bed staring at me,” Stepaniak said, adding her sister and roommate were asleep on either side of him. “I went into shock. I snapped out of it pretty fast.”

She said she started shaking them and screaming at the man, demanding to know who he was and what he was doing there.

“I can’t remember exactly what he said, but I think he said something about hiding. He was flustered that I found him. He didn’t know that I was there,” she said.

“All of a sudden he got out of my room and sprinted away. I screamed ‘Don’t ever come back!’ ” she said.

If she hadn’t seen his feet, Stepaniak said she would have just left the room to sleep somewhere else, leaving him alone with the two girls.

Stepaniak said she didn’t realize it until the man left, but the towel she showered with earlier was in her bed by her sister’s head, and he had been laying on a dress she had hanging up before.

“I am really convinced that if I wouldn’t have come home soon, I don’t know what would have happened,” Stepaniak said. “The detective that came said ‘Well, I’m sure you can assume why he had your dress and towel what his intentions were.’ ”

But she said she thinks she found him right before he was able to do something, and if her roommate and sister had felt any movement, they assumed it was her.

The police confiscated the sheets and towel and took DNA samples from the dress.

A few days later she said she heard from the police that the man had been arrested and it was a university student.

Joash Victor Tindi, 19, was arrested on charges of burglary and fourth degree sexual assault last month.

According to an Eau Claire Police Department press release, Tindi matched the physical description given by a 21-year-old woman from a different residence who told police she woke up to a man touching her under her clothing.

Police also say they believe Tindi entered three other homes in the area, one of which was Stepaniak’s.

The university suspended Tindi and later expelled him, associate dean of Student Development and Diversity Jodie Thesing-Ritter said.

Tindi was out on a cash bond, but he didn’t appear to court March 11, according to court records, and his step-father went to a motel and found that Tindi checked out a few days earlier.

Tindi is currently listed on the Eau Claire County Most Wanted list, and Stepaniak said after she came back from spring break she received a letter from the police saying Tindi was last spotted in Amsterdam.

“We’d rather have that. It’s definitely a lot different around here. We don’t feel scared that much anymore, because he’s just gone,” she said. “The only unfortunate thing is that he didn’t get punished for what he did.”

Stepaniak said things still aren’t back to normal yet, though.

“I haven’t slept in my bed yet since it happened,” she said, and the image of Tindi in her bed is still vivid in her mind. “I don’t really care to see his face ever again.”

“Be careful. Be safe.”
Stepaniak said she’s lived off campus for three years and never thought about the possibility of a break-in before.

“I never felt scared here, but it can happen,” she said.

Senior Alissa Van Boxel, who also lives with Stepaniak, said she stayed home the night of the break-in and locked her bedroom door since she was the only one in the house.

“I knew that he had tried to get in my room,” she said. “If I hadn’t locked my door, he would have been in my room.”

Thesing-Ritter said she can’t stress enough the importance of locking doors.

“If (all tenants) don’t have keys to their front doors, get them,” she said. “To reduce the risk is to respond in the proactive ways that we can,” she said.

University Police Chief David Sprick said the campus hasn’t taken any extra precautions in light of the recent homicide case in Madison.

“We have not done anything extraordinary or beyond what we normally do, because we’re not aware of any . threats in our area,” Sprick said.

Stepaniak said she urges everyone to lock their doors.

“You don’t think it can happen to you, and it can. Be careful. Be safe,” she said. “When it happens to you, you’re not OK after it.”