Special Report: Trapped in the tower

By Janice Broach - bio | email

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - The family of a University of Memphis freshman who died in his dorm room is struggling to understand how the teen became trapped inside Richardson Towers.

Joseph Liner, 18, was found dead in his dorm room in late December.  Liner, who grew up in Memphis and Clarksdale, was studying biomedical engineering at the University of Memphis.

According to an autopsy report, Liner was likely electrocuted after he was locked in his dormitory's bathroom.  Investigators believe Liner crawled out of the bathroom through the ceiling, and then fell through the ceiling into the living area of the dorm room.

Documents obtained exclusively by the Action News 5 Investigators say Liner's mother visited to Richardson Towers to check on her son just before midnight on December 27.  She said he had not made a scheduled trip to Nashville, and she was worried about him.

A Resident Advisor took her to Liner's room, and after several attempts to get him to answer the door, the R. A. used a master key to get inside.  There, they discovered Liner's naked body on the floor, suggesting he may have been taking a shower when he was locked inside the bathroom.

According to the case notes, investigators said there were marks inside the bathroom that showed someone had tried to get out, and a large hole in the ceiling above the sink.  Investigators said there were blood stains around the hole. Multiple electrical wires were found in the ceiling, but there was no exposed wiring.

The Shelby County Medical Examiner ruled Joseph Liner's death accidental.

"I don't get it," remarked his grandfather, Elder Joseph Liner.  "I don't get it."

Liner's grandfather says the family wants to know how his grandson came to be locked in the bathroom.  Memphis police investigators do not believe someone locked him in there, though a spokesperson for the University of Memphis said the bathroom doors only lock from the outside.

Liner's grandfather does not believe it was an accident.

"You know yourself," he said. "You don't believe that lie, do you?"

Memphis police did not grant Action News 5 an interview for this story because the death was ruled accidental.  University of Memphis campus police also refused an interview request.

"That boy was beautiful," Liner's grandfather said. "He was there working with me. I don't get it."

Officials said that no drugs or alcohol were found in Liner's system.

Meanwhile, University of Memphis officials have offered no explanation for how the bathroom door got locked.  Liner's dorm room has been sealed off since December, and will remain that way through the rest of the school year.

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