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Twenty years later, mystery and legacy remain

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FEBRUARY 20, 2012

Twenty years ago this month, a UC Berkeley student was killed in Eshleman Hall.

And the crime, which created a legacy of security concern and controversy in the building, still remains unsolved.

On Feb. 7, 1992, UC Berkeley junior Grace Asuncion was working with her friends in student offices of the Pilipino American Alliance on the fifth floor of the open, student-run Eshleman Hall. After her friends left the building at around 4 p.m. or 5 p.m.,  Asuncion stayed behind to order a cake. She was found dead by a janitor a few hours later, apparently stabbed to death.

With the demolition of Eshleman Hall slated to take place in the fall of this year, a building that has been standing on the UC Berkeley campus for nearly half a century will be destroyed. And with it, the site of the Asuncion death will be brought down as well, closing the crime scene of a case that — decades later — is still very much open.

In 1996, Asuncion’s parents sued the UC Board of Regents for failing to protect their daughter, eventually settling the case two years later for $1 million and free tuition for the Asuncion’s younger sister.

Asuncion was an active member of the UC Berkeley community and a leader of the Pilipino American Alliance. Friends described her as “fun-loving” and said she aspired to go to medical school.

While the criminal investigation into the killing still lacks a substantial conclusion, the event shocked members of the Berkeley community and spurred improvements to security in Eshleman.

According to UCPD Lt. Eric Tejada, the building was equipped with a kiosk put in place for student security monitors, video cameras were installed, entering students were required to show identification and access to the building was restricted after a certain time of night.

Despite the improvements, over the years students have raised concern with the fact that the video cameras in the building were often found running without tape. They have also questioned the effectiveness of the building’s student security monitors and have criticized UCPD emergency response time.

Today, Eshleman Hall has video surveillance, the security kiosk and a card-access system for doors and elevators after hours, according to Associate ASUC Auxiliary Director Tom Spivey.

As plans are under way to renovate Lower Sproul Plaza and rebuild Eshleman Hall to align with seismic safety standards, the incident continues to influence the campus in the way architects, police and planners design and implement the new building’s security measures.

Lower Sproul is set to be renovated over the course of the next few years in a plan that includes changes to Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union and Cesar Chavez Student Center as well as the demolition of Eshleman Hall.

Tejada said UCPD will work with the building’s planners to strategically place emergency telephones throughout the new Eshleman building and to design the new building in a manner that will itself deter crime.

Starting from scratch will allow the new hall’s design to account for old security concerns and create better security measures overall, according to Tejada.

Contact Jeremy Gordon at 


FEBRUARY 21, 2012