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

Why did it take the disappearance and death of Brendan Santo to bring changes?

EAST LANSING, Mich. – I got so many calls and emails from parents asking me to investigate campus security at Michigan State University after Brendan Santo disappeared.

The Grand Valley State University Freshman went missing Oct. 29, 2021 while visiting MSU that weekend. Santo’s body was found in the Red Cedar River by private investigator Ryan Robison on January 21, 2022. The Medical Examiner’s office released the 18-year-old’s autopsy results showing Santo was intoxicated at the time of his death.

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

Soon after Santo’s disappearance, we learned there were many cameras on campus not working. At first, the public thought it was a few non-functioning cameras as the school did not share exactly how many were down right away. (Even now you can’t get a straight answer).

Later, The MSU President would blame a federal mandate on those cameras having chips from China, and because of safety concerns, the 320 cameras were brought down. There are still questions as to why the school felt the cameras needed to be brought down before finding replacements. The mandate to stop using cameras with those questionable Chinese chips was for Federal buildings.

I asked MSU Spokesperson Emily Guerrant why the school made that decision. In a statement, she said, “It was something we feel was a requirement (not optional) tied to federal funds we receive.”

There is more -- after more digging, I discovered MSU still can’t answer the question of how many cameras were working when Brendan disappeared. In a statement on behalf of MSU Spokesperson Emily Guerrant told me, “It’s unfortunately not an easy answer . . . I’m sorry I can’t be more specific, and I’m not trying to be difficult.”

Guerrrant told me the school didn’t tell parents or students about the security cameras that were not working for six months because they didn’t want to create a bigger security risk. Ironically though, once Brendan disappeared, somehow the university was able to get replacements.

That wasn’t the only information MSU kept quiet. I also was tipped off another person fell into the river on campus the SAME DAY Brendan Santo fell in. When I asked about the safety of the river the MSU Police Spokesperson Chris Rozman told me it was rare people fell into the Red Cedar River.

When I responded, telling him I had learned another person besides Brendan Santo had fallen into the river the same day - he then told me it is rare to “drown” in the river. That brings us back to Campus Security -- fencing, lighting, cameras, etc.

Rozman admitted there is no record of the other person falling into the river because 911 was not called - the person’s friends were able to get him out. But that leads to the question -- how can you say it’s not common for people to fall into the river when you are not keeping records? Lots of questions here.

MSU Spokesperson Emily Guerrant told me even if the cameras were working, “it would not have impacted necessarily what happened with Brendan or the investigation into finding him.” Guerrant went on to say cameras have been added, lighting has been improved, and they are working on adding more fencing along the river. (MSU can’t provide exact numbers in terms of how many lights, or how much fencing will be added) as well as an MSU Safety App that was released last December to also help in student safety.

The question is why did it take the disappearance and death of Brendan Santo to bring these changes? Why are parents and students not informed when hundreds of cameras go down and with no date set for replacement? Why isn’t information readily available about people falling into the river so discussions can be had about safety?

As I stated earlier I”m not the only one asking questions -- many parents have reached out to me as well about safety concerns -- including the Santo family.

Santo family releases statement

“There is no greater responsibility a university undertakes than the safety of their students, staff, and visitors. A petition was created on change.org earlier this year calling for MSU to improve safety along the Red Cedar River and to date has over 22K signatures. The student government at MSU (ASMU) also passed a bill earlier this year advocating for additional safety measures be implemented similar to those outlined in the petition. Our sincere hope is that MSU works in collaboration with ASMU to enact the safety measures outlined in their bill to improve safety along the Red Cedar River, so no family has to endure the tragic loss our family experienced.”

The Santo Family

Read: Complete coverage on the death of Brendan Santo

About the Author:

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.