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BEN CLASSON/Herald photo

Police are investigating the homicide of a University of
Wisconsin student found near campus Wednesday afternoon, with her killer still
at large.

Officers responded to a call at about 1 p.m. to discover
21-year-old junior Brittany Zimmermann dead in her home at 517 W. Doty St.

A source close to the investigation said she was stabbed to
death, and Madison Police Chief Noble Wray said investigators have not
discounted the possibility that this case could be linked to another unsolved
stabbing homicide downtown in January.

“This absolutely could be random, and the murderer is
at large,” said City Council President Mike Verveer, District 4. “The
police are working feverishly looking at leads.”

Police have not provided any information on suspects in the
case, and an extensive investigation is ongoing.

“It is so vitally important that if anyone saw
anything, observed anything, heard anything, that they would contact the
Madison Police Department,” Wray said.

Police said any information from the last 24 hours could be
vital to the investigation, and teams have been canvassing the West Doty and
South Bassett streets neighborhood since early Wednesday afternoon.

“If people in the downtown area saw someone suspicious
— and I know we have a cast of characters who call Madison home, and that’s a
good thing — but if you saw somebody trying to get into homes, anything like
that … I’d like to get that CrimeStoppers number out there,” said MPD
Public Information Officer Joel DeSpain.

The number for CrimeStoppers is 608-266-6014.

A forensic medical examination will be performed this
morning, and no information on the cause of Zimmermann’s death will be released
until then.

Zimmermann was a solid student who worked in the Office of
the Registrar, according to Dean of Students Lori Berquam.

“Clearly this is a devastating and tragic situation,
and honestly it’s a shock,” Berquam said. “It’s a shock to many of
those in our community, to the students who just hours before, knew this woman
walking to class, knew her in class.”

Visibly shaken police, city and university officials at a
press conference Wednesday urged students and residents to use caution in the
area.

“I just can’t imagine the emotion that’s running
through the campus right now, through our neighborhood right now, and in the
fact there’s a killer among us,” Verveer said.

Verveer, a resident of the 500 block of West Doty himself,
said he walks past Zimmermann’s house every day and has friends who have lived
there in the past. Even Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz lived on the block when
he attended UW.

“People always think of the Doty and Bassett area as a
very safe neighborhood, as a place with that hometown feel — I was personally
shocked to hear the news,” said UW junior and District 8 Ald. Eli Judge.

Judge, Verveer and Cieslewicz stressed that crime rates in
Madison have been declining and that the neighborhood remains safe.

“While we need to remind ourselves that we are a safe
city overall, we also need to continue to look out for ourselves, to continue
to be a strong community,” Cieslewicz said.

UW Police Chief Susan Riseling and Wray said police added
patrols and visibility as of 4 p.m. Wednesday, which will continue on an
increased status “until we have enough information to step down,”
Riseling said.

Verveer and Judge are planning a community meeting for
Saturday afternoon, “to brief all concerned parties, particularly my
neighbors, on what the current situation is with the investigation,”
Verveer said. The location and exact time of the meeting will be determined
today.

Zimmermann, a native of Marshfield, Wis., was planning to
marry her current boyfriend next year, her father told The Capital Times.

Wray said police had not ruled out that this could be
connected to the January homicide of Joel Marino, who was stabbed to death on
South Park Street, or the abduction of UW-Whitewater student Kelly Nolan, who
disappeared from downtown Madison last June and was later found dead north of
Oregon, Wis.

Verveer said there were “striking similarities”
between Zimmermann’s case and the Marino homicide, though he said he had no
reason to think the two were connected.

Verveer said the last murder of a UW student was in September
1996, when UW student Jonathan Daniel of Waukesha was murdered in his
University Avenue apartment after a “drug rip-off.”

— Cara Harshman and
Nick Penzenstadler contributed to this report.