Monday, May 12, 2003

Victim was trusting, naive, aunt says

By Beth Campbell
The Associated Press

The aunt of a Western Kentucky University student who died after a dorm fire said her niece was a trusting, naive girl who was warned about the dangers of working at a strip club.

But Virginia White isn't sure that Katie Autry's short stint at TattleTails, a Bowling Green-area club, had anything to do with her death.

"She wasn't at TattleTails when she was harmed. She was on campus. That by itself says a lot," White said on Friday night.

Police have made no arrests in the death of Autry, who was found in her burning dorm room during the early hours of May 4 with third-degree burns and abrasions and puncture wounds on her neck and face. She died Wednesday; results from an autopsy performed Thursday are pending.

Autry's whereabouts the evening of the fire, which investigators said was deliberately set, have been a focal point of the police investigation. Friends have said that Autry and her roommate attended a party at a fraternity house.

White, who was with Autry when she died at Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville, Tenn., said her niece had worked as a dancer at the club for just a few weeks before she apparently quit. Telephone calls to the club went unanswered Saturday afternoon; WBKO-TV of Bowling Green, citing a manager at the club, reported this week that Autry last danced at the club on April 26.

"You need to understand she had to have a job," White said. "This is what she told me. My last conversation with her was talking to her to try to warn her of the dangers of this. She was 18, she could make her own decisions about what she wanted to do with her life.

"Katie grew up when she was younger in a small town, and when she was in foster care, she was in a small town," White said. "Katie didn't realize there were people out there that she couldn't trust."

While the police investigation continued Saturday, commencement ceremonies were held on the campus about 110 miles south of Louisville. The ceremony began with a moment of silence for Autry and other students and faculty members who had died during the school year.

A memorial service for Autry is set for Sunday in Pellville, followed by a funeral in Beaver Dam on Monday.

"I can't think of nobody that would have wanted to have hurt Katie. Everybody I knew loved Katie," White said. "Nobody deserved what this girl got. Someone had a lot of anger to have done this girl the way they done her."

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