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Missing Student Returns Home After DA Drops Theft Charges

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday August 21, 2008 - 09:02:00 AM
Rice University student Matthew Wilson.
Rice University student Matthew Wilson.

Matthew Wilson, the missing Rice University student who was found by UC police on the UC Berkeley campus last week and charged with possession of stolen property, flew back home to Oklahoma Wednesday with his mother and two sisters after the Alameda County district attorney’s office dismissed all charges against him. 

Wilson, a computer science junior at Rice, caught the attention of national media and prompted several non-profit groups to search for him when he disappeared from his off-campus apartment building in Houston Dec. 14.  

Wilson’s 2004 silver Dodge Neon was found parked on the street in a West Berkeley neighborhood in June, and authorities did not rule out the possibility that Wilson, 21, might have left home on his own accord.  

His mother Cathy Wilson of Haworth, Oklahoma flew to the Bay Area recently to conduct a search for him in collaboration with Pleasanton-based Trinity Search and Recovery. 

Although sightings of Wilson were reported in People’s Park and a few other places in Berkeley, nothing concrete turned up. 

He was found by a UC police officer in a classroom in Dwinelle Hall on Aug. 13 and charged with possession of stolen property and burglary tools and with giving false information to an officer.  

UC police handed Wilson over to Berkeley police for an interview, after which he was transported to the John George Psychiatric Pavilion in San Leandro for a psychological assessment later that night. 

When he was released from the hospital Monday, UC police took him into custody and transported him to Santa Rita Jail. 

Sgt. Mary Kusmiss, spokesperson for the Berkeley Police Department, said the district attorney dismissed all charges against Wilson in the interest of justice when he appeared at the Wiley W. Manuel Courthouse in Oakland to be arraigned at 9 a.m. Tuesday. 

Officer Mitch Celaya, spokesperson for the UC Police Department, said university police Officer Sean Aranas was looking for a theft suspect when he came across Wilson a little before 7 p.m. in room 89 of Dwinelle Hall on campus. 

Wilson, who was dressed in a black T-shirt, black jeans and black athletic shoes and had shaved his beard and cut his hair, was all by himself in the room and had a computer with scraped off serial numbers hooked up to an overhead projector. 

“He was using the projector to see whatever was on his laptop,” Celaya said. 

“The officer was immediately suspicious and asked him whether he was a student. Wilson replied that he was.” 

Wilson was unable to produce a student ID when the officer asked for it, Celaya said, and later admitted he was not a student. 

Wilson then gave the officer a false name—“Colin Lynch”—and later provided him with his true identity after which the office ran an ID check and found the missing person report. 

The officer also found a backpack with what looked like burglary tools, Celaya said. 

Kusmiss said that Wilson had told the homicide detective during the two-hour interview at the Ron Tsukamoto Public Safety Building last week that he “wanted to come west and disappear,” and that he had been “living on the streets” in recent months.  

He spent quite a bit of time on the UC Berkeley campus, police said, and slept near some of the buildings. 

He told the detective that the UC student community had been a “good source of food” and that he did not make any social connections or friends while in Berkeley. 

“He was familiar with Berkeley because it was one of the universities he had applied to,” she said. 

“Our overall assessment was that he’s a young man facing challenges in his life and confusion and isolation. He wasn’t seeking out anyone for social networking.” 

Kusmiss did not release the nature of Wilson’s medical assessment, saying that it was protected by confidentiality. 

It took Wilson approximately a week to drive to Berkeley and he “lived in his car off and on until it was towed” by Berkeley police June 10, the police statement said. 

Kusmiss said items found in the car included a collection of anarchist essays called Days of War, Nights of Love, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, the Jan. 8 edition of the Contra Costa Times, clothes, rice and a can of beans. 

Published by anarchist collective Crimethinc, Days of War, Nights of Love advocates the fight for personal freedom and alternate lifestyles and in certain sections criticizes capitalism and mass-consumerism. 

Available at Moe’s books on Telegraph Avenue and The Longhaul on Shattuck Avenue, the book, according to an employee at Moe’s, is quite popular with the younger generation who are interested in that particular genre of literature. 

Kusmiss said that although several people suggested that “there may be deeper or darker energies” behind Wilson arriving in Berkeley, the Berkeley Police Department’s impression was that he was a young man who was facing personal challenges and did not want to be found. 

“We had heard rumors from Trinity Search and Recovery that he might have come to Berkeley to be part of a hacking group but we had no compulsion to explore it,” Kusmiss said. 

“There’s no nexus that we are aware of. Days of War Nights of Love could have answers for a lot of young people who don’t fit in. Anarchy has a lot of different definitions. When people hear anarchy they think it means fighting against the world but it can also mean not conforming to social norms.”