When Love Harms


"The practice of love can be expressed in one sentence: ‘Do not harm others’." - H.H. the Dalai Lama, (tweeted August 22, 2011)

Last month was a sad time at my alumni campus, the University of Idaho. Ernesto Bustamante - known as Professor B, or simply 'E', murdered a graduate student by the name of Katy Benoit with his .45 calibre handgun outside of her home, shooting her over a dozen times in the throat and chest before barricading himself in a local hotel room and killing himself.

Image: Gideon Tsang via Flickr

It's said that Ernesto and Katy had a previous intimate relationship, but it ended back in March. In June, Katy filed a complaint against Ernesto and came clean about the nature of their relationship to the university. The university then gave Ernesto an ultimatum: hand in resignation at the end of summer term or they would fire him.

In news reports, it's believed that Ernesto owned multiple firearms and had pulled a gun on Katy before - once, even going as far as putting a gun in her mouth.

I was shocked and saddened to hear the news, but I wasn't so shocked that Bustamante was the one who committed such a horrendous act.

Ernesto became an assistant Professor at the University of Idaho in 2007 - during my Sophomore year. In the school year of 2008, my fellow Psychology classmates and I would see him on occasion dancing and drinking with female students from across smoky bars on weekends. Rumors whirled about how he had divulged to students he suffered from bipolar disorder and DID (multiple-personalities).

Rumors also ran wild about his love of collecting firearms and his habit of emailing provocative self-photos to select female students - asking them if they'd like to come to his place for pizza or go out for a drink. I remember how those rumors were half-comical in my mind - he didn't seem to be dangerous, he just seemed like a desperate Casanova.

 I'll admit, I had a bit of a crush on Bustamante when I first saw him around campus. He had the longest, most shiny hair I've ever seen on a man... anytime I saw him he was well-dressed. Whenever I walked by him, he presented himself to me with intellect, charm and a flirty elegance. It wasn't until much later in my college career that I discovered this exotically handsome professor was the same professor who would give me so much hell.

I had taken Ernesto's courses online in my Junior year and never heard a word from him. I sent numerous emails to him asking if he could tell me my grades after I submitted my assignments - I got an email two months after the semester had ended saying he was out of the country and that's why he couldn't respond. And that no, he never received any of my work and that was the reason why he was giving me a failing grade.

That was all the email said.

I was furious.

I thought about filing a complaint against him then, but the 'complaint' I found out was just going to be a discussion between Ernesto and the head professor of the Psychology department. I was planning to meet with the head professor and also raise concern to the rumors I had heard and the things I had seen Ernesto doing with students, but when I was asked if I wanted to be identified or have my name kept anonymous, I decided not to file the complaint because I had a bad feeling that Ernesto would assume it was me - the University of Idaho is a pretty small campus - and in order to graduate, I needed to get a good grade from him.

So, I kept my mouth shut. I repeated his courses and passed.

I have absolutely no personal interactions with Ernesto outside of a professional setting - besides seeing him with students in smoky bars on occasion. But, I remember thinking in college that there must've been some truth to the darker rumors about him because having studied Psychology myself, his behavior seemed to fall in line with his supposed disorders. It's what made me weary of him.

It's also what made me wear a fake ring to our one-on-one meetings about my repeat coursework in my Senior year and it's what made me tell him I was engaged when he asked about my ring. I remember his demeanor immediately shifted from flirty to platonic when I told him I was engaged - and that's why I remember that encounter with him so well. I don't even know why I wore a fake ring to that meeting, but looking back, there must have been some divine intervention keeping our paths from intermingling...

I feel bad for Bustamante to have been affected by such psychologically gripping illnesses - and I feel a million times worse for Katy Benoit, the unfortunate victim of his illnesses.

I think a lot of factors went wrong in order for this situation to happen and it raises a lot of valid questions: Why aren't there any laws in America preventing people with mental illnesses from owning firearms? Why didn't the University of Idaho handle Ernesto's situation more carefully given his history of mental instability - and moreover, why didn't the university work with the police department to offer preventive security to Katy Benoit just in case the professor who openly claimed to suffer from bipolar disorder AND multiple personality disorder spiral into a fit of rage? Why did the Latah County Police Department go to such extremes as having a forceful standoff with a man who was blatantly in a warped state of mind? Could the feeling of being trapped by the police been what drove Ernesto to kill himself in his hotel room? Or could it have been his remorse for what one of his personalities had done to Katy?

The entire situation is terribly tragic, terribly shocking and terribly twisted - one thing I can vouch for from personal experience is that in the conservative state of Idaho, mental illness is extremely underestimated.

Moscow, Idaho is considered one of the more liberal cities of the state, (thanks in large part to the diverse students and staff of the University of Idaho) but even on campus, the resources available to those who are mentally afflicted aren't as great as they could be - nor are they taken as seriously as I feel they should be.

In his defense, Bustamante was a good instructor - his courses were some of the hardest courses I had in college. He was wildly intelligent, becoming an assistant professor with the University of Idaho when he was only 27. And you know, I suspect that's part of the reason why nobody reported his inappropriate fraternization with female students sooner - he was highly professional when he needed to be. I also suspect that's the reason why the rumors about him and his openly claimed mental illnesses weren't ever taken seriously. He didn't seem to be this monster he claimed he could be...

Shame on us all.

I strongly believe one of the most harmful things we can do to others is belittle them.

"The practice of love can be expressed in one sentence: ‘Do not harm others’."

Reanna Pettigrew writes at: http://www.bumpkinandme.com


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