Investigating Brendan Santo’s death: Why were cameras not working on campus? What are police doing now?

Parents of Michigan State University students want answers

Local 4's Karen Drew is investigating the investigation of Brendan Santo's apparent drowning death in the Red Cedar River while he was visiting Michigan State University's campus in East Lansing last year. We're sitting down with officials at Michigan State University and the Michigan State University's police force to learn more about what happened and their investigation.

EAST LANSING, Mich. – Big changes are coming to the campus of Michigan State University after a visiting college student was found dead in the Red Cedar River.

Brendan Santo, 18, was visiting friends over Halloween weekend last year when he went missing. For two and a half months, police searched for the Grand Valley State University student on campus and in the river.

Santo’s body was recovered on Jan. 21 in an area of the river that was full of debris. His body was located by a private investigator.

An autopsy was performed Jan. 22 in Ingham County. Medical examiners ruled his death an accidental drowning and reported that alcohol contributed to his death. The investigation has not yet been closed.

More: Hear from the private investigator who found Brendan Santo’s body in the Red Cedar River

Parents raise safety concerns

Now, six months after Santo was first reported missing, there is temporary fencing up along the river. But is that all that’s being done to protect students? Parents want answers.

Local 4 did some digging and discovered the university had 320 cameras offline when Santo went missing. Why were the cameras off?

“The university was notified of a new federal government rule that a certain microchip that was made in China was no longer allowed to be used in surveillance material. And that impacted the majority of the cameras that we had set up across campus,” MSU spokesperson Emily Guerrant said.

But why didn’t the university get the replacements first before taking down the security cameras? University officials said they expected replacements to come quickly. Why didn’t they at least inform students and parents the cameras were off?

“There were concerns about, again, people taking advantage of that,” Guerrant said. “So we made the decision at the time not to share.”

The university was able to get the replacements quickly, with no delays -- after Santo had died.

“It is unfortunate what happened with Brendan, although we feel very strong too -- that even had that camera been working at that hall, it would not have impacted necessarily what happened with Brendan or the investigation into, into finding him,” Guerrant said.

Reporter journal: Karen Drew: Getting answers about security on Michigan State University’s campus after Brendan Santo’s death

Michigan State University police to make changes

Michigan State University police led the investigation when Santo went missing.

“There’s always lessons that we can learn from any incident. Our specialty, MSU police and public safety is not a dive and search and rescue operation. We did refer to some outside resources and coordinated that effort,” Rozman said.

“Are you concerned about the safety along the river?” Drew asked.

“Sure, so, while the incident involving Brendan Santo is tragic, anytime that somebody loses a son or daughter, or we lose a member of our community it’s a tragic incident. However, it is extremely rare,” Rozman said.

“I understand that another student went into the river the same day. So that wasn’t rare. Two students went in at the same time.” Drew said.

“A student drowning in the river is extremely rare,” Rozman said.

“No one really shared that information,” Drew said.

Now, Michigan State University police are making a chance. After Santo went missing, the school launched a safety app that anyone can use for virtual walks, crime updates, and safety alerts.

Permanent fencing to be put up

A university spokesperson said a section of fencing will be replaced with a permanent fence. The fence is near a steep decline that leads right into the river. Authorities believe Santo fell into the river in a spot similar to that.

“The fencing may look different for different parts of campus too. It won’t be everywhere along the river, but areas where we’ve had problems in the past or we think there’s a safety concern,” Guerrant said.

The changes should be complete by fall, when students return.

Santo’s family released the following statement to Local 4:

Extended interview: Michigan State University Police official discusses Brendan Santo investigation

Full statement from Rozman:

Thank you for reaching out and letting us know. We know that campus is a safer place when we all work together to advance a shared vision of community and safety. We will always listen to suggestions and work together with our community to improve safety on campus.

Last year we formed a Police and Public Safety Advisory Committee that meets monthly with our police leadership team. Committee members include students, faculty and staff from a cross-section of academic departments and administrative units, as well as student and employee organizations.

Committee members represent diverse perspectives and experiences that will inform their feedback to move MSU Police and Public Safety forward. The committee is co-chaired by two student representatives.

Our SafeMSU App was designed with input from students, faculty, and staff and provides access to valuable safety resources in Spartans’ hands. To date over 10,000 people have downloaded the app. Features include:

  • Virtual friend walk. This function allows Spartans to share their current location with a friend who can follow their progress to the destination. The friend can also contact police immediately if they feel there is a problem.
  • One-touch emergency calls
  • Access SafeRide and NightOwl programs for after-hours transportation.
  • Access to SafeMSU is not limited to just our Spartan community and we encourage anybody visiting campus to download the safety app.

Read: Complete coverage on Brendan Santo


About the Authors:

Karen Drew is the anchor of Local 4 News First at 4, weekdays at 4 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. She is also an award-winning investigative reporter and part of the Local 4 Defenders team.

Kayla is a Web Producer for ClickOnDetroit. Before she joined the team in 2018 she worked at WILX in Lansing as a digital producer.