CINCINNATI – After a night out with his friends, University of Cincinnati student Brogan Dulle made his way to the basement of a building next to his apartment and took his own life, police said.
Eight days later, and after countless hours of searching from authorities and members of the community, Dulle was found hanging by a cord with a bottle of wine by his side.
"Maybe this was planned days in advance, but we just don't know that," Assistant Police Chief Dave Bailey said at a press conference Tuesday. "It's been a long week. It's been an investigation that's raised more questions than answers -- and there are probably questions we'll never have answers to."
Hamilton County Coroner Lakshmi Sammarco ruled Dulle's death a suicide Tuesday afternoon -- saying the 21-year-old died from asphyxiation by hanging.
Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell said no foul play is suspected, and Dulle had a crowbar in his possession when he entered the building.
His body was spotted Monday night by a landlord who was onsite to inspect the property on 173 East McMillan St. in Mount Auburn, which is currently being rehabilitated.
Bailey said the building is being used as an off-hours office for a medical supplies business. Dulle was found in the corner of the basement, where nobody would have thought to look, he said.
"Unless there was any reason someone would go into that basement, he wasn't going to be seen," Bailey said. "It was damp. Unless you could get to the light and turn it on for any specific reason, you're not going to see him."
When the building's landlord called 911, she thought there was an intruder in the basement, Bailey said.
"She wasn't quite sure what she was seeing," he said.
Authorities said they believe Dulle was alone when he died, and they are still investigating where he obtained the cord used to hang himself.
Officers informed Dulle's parents late Monday evening of their son's death, a family spokesperson said.
"Brogan’s family is heartbroken by the loss of their beloved son and brother," the spokesperson said. "The family is overwhelmingly grateful for the love, prayers, support and time given by the Cincinnati community."
A large police presence remained into early Tuesday morning at the building. Dulle's apartment, where he was last seen May 18, is next door at 179 East McMillan St.
Police officials told WCPO's Kareem Elgazzar they tried to check the building earlier, and a Criminal Investigations Section commander walked through the area Saturday. He said the building was locked.
"We certainly have searched the exterior of this building extensively," Blackwell said. "That needs to be duly noted. We have walked around the perimeter of this facility. We (did not see) any sight of him."
Authorities said they believe Dulle entered through a third-story window from the fire escape on the back of the house.
Bailey said investigators believe Dulle used his crowbar to enter through the window.
He said authorities wanted to check inside the property during search efforts, but weren't able to and didn't think the building had been broken into.
"We made many, many attempts to try to contact someone inside the building," Bailey said. "We're always looking for areas where someone could have gotten into, a place that's been breached… This building appeared to have people in it. There was no obvious breach."
Sammarco said the lighting in the building is poor, which made it hard for police to tell what exactly was inside.
"I think it would have been a difficult place for people to discover him without actually being inside the building," Sammarco said. "Perimeter-wise, I don't think you would have seen any indication that someone was in there."
Officers arrived there to investigate at about 9 p.m. Monday after the landlord called 911.
After Blackwell announced Dulle's death, an emotional crowd formed outside the building.
“It's just really terrifying," neighbor Ally Wilkes said. "I live right here in Campus Parks and it's crazy to know something like this happened. A lot of our friends have been out doing volunteering and people we know that knew him and his family. It's heartbreaking."
Police said Dulle disappeared after he told his friends he left his cellphone behind -- possibly at a restaurant nearby -- and would retrace his steps to find it.
Dulle left his wallet, money, identification and house keys in his East McMillan apartment when he left at about 3 a.m. Sunday, May 18.
He never returned.
The local field branch of the FBI told Cincinnati police Sunday they would assist in the investigation, offering "additional resources and capabilities."
Dulle’s family members called off volunteer searches early Monday, prior to the discovery by police.
The search for Dulle captivated the nation, earning a Thursday night segment on Nancy Grace’s HLN show and a viral story on the Huffington Post. The story was “liked” more than a million times.
Even ABC News covered it, with anchor David Muir referring to the situation as a “desperate search for a Cincinnati college student who disappeared without a trace.”
Search parties were conducted around the clock near UC in Clifton, Clifton Heights, Over-the-Rhine and downtown for seven days.
After the discovery of Dulle's body, many nearby residents questioned why it took so long for him to be found.
“It's not adding up at all to me," neighbor Aaliyah Hendrix said. "I just don't understand none of it. How does he come out of nowhere after... days of being gone."
Texas Equusearch -- the group that searched for Katelyn Markham after she went missing from her Fairfield home in 2011 -- pitched in, too.
“Shock, just shock. Just to have him that close. I can't believe to have him that close," said Dave Rader, the president of the Ohio Chapter of Texas Equusearch. "After eight days, it’s heartbreaking. It’s absolutely heartbreaking."
Just about anywhere you went in Greater Cincinnati over the last week, you could find a flier with Dulle’s face on it.
Volunteers set up a booth at the Taste of Cincinnati and the Reds displayed his picture on the videoboard at Great American Ball Park during games last weekend. A large banner was set up on the off-ramp from I-71 to Smith and Edwards roads. Storefronts posted his missing flier as far north as West Chester.
The biggest lead police had during the search for Dulle was surveillance video released last Thursday.
The footage showed Dulle walking along the 100 block of East McMillan Street and using a flashlight around 3 a.m. Sunday, not far from his apartment.
The last visible video captured Dulle returning to the vicinity of his apartment at 3:10 a.m., still using his flashlight. The camera eventually loses sight of him when he steps out of range.
Authorities said Tuesday they have a theory Dulle was able to return to his apartment to retrieve the wine and crowbar used in his apparent suicide.
Police said they had no idea where Dulle’s phone was during their search, and it stopped sending out pings, or signals, around 5 a.m. Sunday.
Authorities said that indicated the phone was either shut off or out of battery.
Police have still not located his phone.
Dulle, an education major and graduate of Turpin High School, was described as a passionate, responsible young man who loved working with kids. He was a swim coach at both Mercy HealthPlex Sea Wolves and Turpin Hills swim clubs.
“He is responsible and he is dedicated, he would not miss work,” his mother, Beth Dulle, said at a news conference Friday at Cincinnati Police District 4 headquarters. “Like a mailman – rain, sleet or snow – he would be there.”
The Facebook group, ‘Help Find Brogan Dulle,' posted after news broke Monday that information about the discovery of Dulle's body was "brand new to all of us, including his family who is reading on this page."
"We are asking you to please stop with the speculatory comments at this time, they are making it SO much harder for us right now," the post wrote.
University of Cincinnati President Santa Ono tweeted shortly after, acknowledging Dulle's passing.
Brogan. You brought so many gifts to those around you and to UC. We will never forget you. May your heart and soul find peace and comfort.— Santa J. Ono (@PrezOno) May 27, 2014
Ono issued the following statement Tuesday morning:
“Brogan was part of our university family, and our hearts are heavy with the news of this devastating loss. On behalf of the University of Cincinnati, I want to express our deepest condolences to his parents, siblings, family and friends. Our thoughts and prayers are with all who knew and loved him. I also want to extend my admiration and appreciation to the caring and dedicated corps of volunteers and law enforcement officials who never gave up hope. The outpouring of support and sympathy from the broader community has been truly humbling. To assist and support our campus community during this difficult time, grief counselors are available at the University’s Office of Counseling & Psychological Services at 513-556-0648 and 513-556-0034.”
The Turpin Hills Swim and Racquet Club also issued a statement on Dulle's death, expressing members there "were devastated to hear the news of the tragic loss of our head swim coach and friend."
Dulle's former employer, the Cincinnati Zoo, held an event led by Ono Tuesday evening to honor his memory.
Another vigil and memorial is planned for Wednesday at 9 p.m. at McMicken Commons on UC's campus.
WCPO's Jason Law, Kareem Elgazzar and Brian Mains contributed to this report.