This is what Dexter Simmons gets for the $830 he pays each term for his spot in a University of Florida dormitory: A small room, noisy freshmen neighbors, a communal kitchen, but the protection of dormitory security and a 65-officer campus police force. "It's not perfect," Simmons said.
Just a few blocks away _ deep in the woods that spring up wherever pavement ends in this city _ students paying about the same amount in off-campus apartments get this: Peace and quiet, a private kitchen, and seclusion that is suddenly being seen as perhaps more curse than blessing.
The discovery Friday of the bodies of two UF students in their off-campus condominium has spread new doubts about the safety of the thousands of students who by choice and necessity live outside the protection of the campus police.
University officials, struggling with an off-campus disappearance and seven murders in three years, are left wondering how they can beef up security in neighborhoods outside their control.
"We can always make changes on campus," said Art Sandeen, UF's vice president for student affairs. "But off-campus, what can we do?"
The answer to that question is critical to parents throughout Florida who are considering where to send their children for school. Many are clearly worried by the murders, but say they'll stick with UF for now. Others are less sure _ saying the deaths have made them consider smaller schools, closer to home.
Said St. Petersburg resident Gordon McGeorge, whose son Keith Ellis hopes to attend UF some day: "I'd feel better if he were at home. I would rather (have) him go to a different school."
University officials are hoping a quick resolution of the latest murders could allay some of the fears. But late Saturday, police were saying they still had no motive or suspects in the strangulation of 22-year-old Carla Marie McKishnie of Brandon and her roommate, Eleanor Anne Grace, 20, of Fort Myers.
The bodies were found Friday morning in the second floor of a two-story condominium on the city's southwest side.
Police now think the women died sometime between 7 a.m. Thursday and 7 a.m. Friday. Both were fully clothed and there was no evidence of sexual abuse.
Lt. Spencer Mann, spokesman for the Alachua County Sheriff's Department, continued to say police have found no evidence to suggest these killings were linked to the five serial killings that traumatized this city in August.
But Mann said patrols would continue to be increased because there is always a possibility of another serial killer at work. "We can't promise there is not going to be another victim," he said.
Large off-campus population
In many college towns the line between city and campus _ town and gown, as this gap is called _ is quite clear.
At the campus line, a city's streets and homes give way to institutional buildings, dormitories and sports fields.
In Gainesville, that line is not so clear.
Living in the neighborhoods that surround the traditional campus here, there are apt to be more students than local residents. Roughly 75 percent of the school's 34,000 students live in off-campus apartment houses. Some complexes are virtually filled with students.
"They're close and convenient, yet countrified," said Dick Mitchell, manager of Hickory Place Apartments, an off-campus complex popular with students.
At Polo's of Gainesville, a posh complex south of Southwest 35th Place, manager Jill Newell said she is confident her facility is safe. Among her residents are 14 law enforcement officers.
"I would think we're the most secure place in town," Newell said.
But that doesn't set Michelle Knipe's mind at ease. Her second-floor unit at Polo's is close to a thick patch of trees.
The 20-year-old junior from Orlando worries about Gainesville's location between two major drug-running routes _ interstates 75 and 95 _ and several prisons within an hour of Gainesville.
"I've always been scared, since day one," Knipe said.
Sandeen, the UF vice president, said the university has extended its security escort service into off-campus neighborhoods, but he said the university's influence there is limited. The campus police force, for example, does not patrol beyond the campus borders.
Mann said normal Sheriff's Department patrols have always heavily targeted the student neighborhoods because of the dense population. But he said there has been no talk of permanently boosting security specifically in student neighborhoods.
Still, on Friday, UF President John Lombardi said the university may have to find ways to extend its efforts into student neighborhoods.
"It would probably take a joint effort on the part of the landlords, the university and the local police, but we may have to look for ways of offering more support," Lombardi said.
Parents of current students and freshmen beginning this fall said they will be watching security improvements closely.
Ken Reed, who teaches senior English at Crystal River High School, said the news of the recent murders caused his wife to sit down and talk about safety with their daughter Melissa, who will begin UF this fall.
"They talked about the importance of staying with a group and using the student escort service on campus," he said. "I know the university is doing everything possible for the students, but I also know that no matter where you send them to school there are problems."
Joe McComas of Tampa said he will worry about his daughter, Sharon, who will be a UF freshman in August.
"I am concerned about it, but I'm not going to be intimidated," McComas said. "We're still going to send her."
But McComas said he's glad she will be living on campus, away from the secluded apartments that have been the sight of recent murders.
After five students were murdered last August, demand for on-campus housing rose dramatically. There is now a waiting list for rooms, but incoming freshmen are given preference.
Still, the vast majority of students will keep living in neighborhoods where campus security doesn't reach _ a continuing concern for parents whose children won't have access to the dormitories.
In town this weekend for a student conference on rape, Eleanor Smeal, former president of the National Organization for Women, complained that violence against women was common in and around colleges throughout the U.S. She urged the university and city to work for safety for all students, no matter where they live.
"If they bring in 34,000 students," she said, "they should bring in the resources necessary to protect them."
_ Staff writers Lee Ann Jacob, Donya Currie, Mike Jackson and Carolyn Russo contributed to this report.