Neighbors of murdered student recall events on night of incident

Katie Phillips

The ongoing trial of James E. Trimble evokes vivid memories for the neighbors of the Kent State student who was held hostage on Jan. 21.

Trimble is being tried in the Portage County Common Pleas Court on charges of killing 22-year-old student Sarah Positano, along with 42-year-old Renee Bauer and her 7-year-old son Dakota Bauer.

Positano was killed by a single bullet wound to the neck in her 3729B Ranfield Road apartment, the first of three duplexes on the left side of the street.

Junior marketing major Brett Walchalk and Suffield resident Ray Barry III, along with one other roommate, lived in the third duplex on the right side.

“We were in our apartment, which is pretty much catty-corner to where she was held hostage,” Walchalk said of the night of Jan. 21. “It’s probably about 150 yards away. He (Trimble) could have as easily walked into our house, as he did her house.”

At about 10 p.m., the roommates and two friends returned home from a high school basketball game and received a phone call from a neighbor warning them of a murderer in the area.

“There’s a killer in the woods,” Walchalk heard from his neighbor. “We didn’t know what to believe.”

Continuous phone calls from frantic family and friends – Barry said he remembered receiving 100 on his cell phone alone – confirmed to the household that Trimble left the woods and entered Positano’s residence.

“I got another phone call from a friend whose dad had a police scanner, and said he’s in the house with such and such an address,” Walchalk said, his brow furrowing at the memory. “We’re like, ‘That seems pretty close to our address.'”

The group watched from the sliding glass door as squad cars lined the dirt road and blocked incoming traffic, preventing residents from leaving the area.

“We were stranded down there,” Barry said, so in an attempt to find some security, he kept in contact with his aunt, an Akron police officer, for nearly 12 hours over the phone. “She kept saying, ‘We’re gonna try to get you out of there, we’re gonna try to get you out of there.'”

The situation grew tenser when the household heard deafening sounds resembling firecrackers from across the street, even though the doors and windows were shut.

“We started hearing gunshots, one after the other, just rapid gunfire,” Walchalk said.

Minutes after the round of gunshots, the group heard a soft tap on the door and a voice saying, “Turn off all the lights, go downstairs and get in the back of the house.”

A SWAT team officer had crawled up the driveway with instructions for the household.

Shots rang out for the next couple of hours as the five of them huddled around a single candle in a downstairs bedroom.

Sleep-deprived and silent, they waited from midnight until about 9 a.m. when a police officer knocked on the door, informing them the incident was under control.

The hostage situation was over, but Walchalk and Barry struggled to grasp a sense of security in their neighborhood.

The roomates moved from their Ranfield Road residence a few months later and now live together in a house on Congress Lake Road.

Barry said he regrets the lack of contact between his household and Positano’s.

“I kind of felt bad because we lived there for over a year and never really got in touch with her,” he said. “Maybe if we did, we could have called her right then and warned her.”

Contact public affairs reporter Katie Phillips at [email protected].