Dorm chute is search's focus A fiber-optic camera probed for clues to freshman John Fiocco Jr.'s fate

Posted: March 31, 2006

EWING, N.J. — The focus in the hunt for a missing College of New Jersey freshman took a grim turn yesterday - a dormitory trash chute that authorities inspected with a special tethered fiber-optic camera.

A day earlier, investigators searched the 10-story building from top to bottom with cadaver-sniffing dogs.

Investigators wanted to get a "good look inside the chute" at Wolfe Hall, where John Fiocco Jr., 19, a well-liked graphic-arts major from Sewell, lived on the fourth floor, said Capt. Al Della Fave, a state police spokesman. Fiocco vanished early Saturday after a night of heavy drinking, authorities said.

Investigators have focused for days on garbage containers behind the dorm, where, according to several media reports, they found a red substance now being tested. College building-services workers questioned by police said they had seen red liquid leaking from a trash compactor.

While investigators examined the chute, others continued to question staff and students.

Fiocco was last seen about 3 a.m. Saturday. Friends say he was drunk before falling asleep in a friend's room.

"The investigation is continuing on number of fronts using pretty much every resource we can," said Sgt. Steve Jones, another state police spokesman. "We are focusing on finishing interviews with all students and people at the college who may have come in contact with Fiocco before he went missing."

Investigators with cadaver dogs searched Wolfe and another dormitory Wednesday night after evacuating about 1,000 students for several hours.

Fiocco, who was a standout scholar and athlete at Clearview Regional High School in Harrison Township, retreated to a room near his to sleep after a drinking party, his friends said. The party was held at the "Track House," an off-campus apartment shared by several members of the college track team.

The next morning, the friends said, Fiocco was gone, having left his shoes.

In high school, Fiocco was an honors student and a member of the track and football teams. He was well-liked by teachers and classmates.

His family has been unavailable for comment.

Police have not said whether they believe alcohol played a role in Fiocco's disappearance. Nevertheless, his disappearance drew fresh attention to an underage drinking scene prevalent at universities and colleges across the country.

"What college is all about," was the caption that Fiocco wrote on a personal Web page several weeks ago beneath a photo that shows him playing beer pong, a popular campus drinking game.

Messages on the Web site from friends challenged him to beer pong and chatted about drinking with him.

Students said that drinking was a way of life at the College of New Jersey, but that not everyone was a binge drinker.

The federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reported that 41 percent of people between 18 and 25 engaged in binge drinking - five or more drinks on the same occasion - in 2004.

Coleen Weber, a friend who attended high school and college with Fiocco, said that "many things that have been said on the news have been false . . . that John was an alcoholic. This is simply not true."

Donna Shaw, an assistant journalism professor and adviser to the college newspaper, the Signal, said the college wasn't known as a party school.

"The average SAT score here is 1,300. We get the kids who can't afford to go to Princeton," she said. "We're really a safe campus. Nothing like this happens here."

Contact staff writer Jan Hefler at 856-779-3224 or jhefler@phillynews.com.

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