Metropolitan Police are still investigating the death of GW Law School student Chris Bartok, who was found in the Potomac River about three weeks ago.
MPD officials said they are not treating Bartok’s death as a homicide but would not comment further on their work. They said they are awaiting the results of a cause of death inquiry conducted by the D.C. Medical Examiner’s Office.
Bartok, 26, from Morro Bay, Calif., finished his first semester at the Law School last month. He graduated from the California Institute of Technology in 2002.
A woman jogging across the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Bridge the morning of Dec. 19 spotted Bartok’s body lying face down in the river, said Officer Kenneth Bryson, of MPD’s Public Information Office. When MPD officers pulled Bartok from the water, he was wearing only a T-shirt, boxer shorts and socks.
Doctors who performed an autopsy on Bartok’s body concluded that there were no signs of a struggle, according to a document compiled by Bartok’s mother, Carol DiNolfo. MPD detectives told DiNolfo that the water found in her son’s sinus cavities and lungs suggested that he had drowned.
Bartok was last seen Dec. 18 at McFadden’s bar on Pennsylvania Avenue, where he and his friends were celebrating the end of finals, DiNolfo said. She said her son left the bar before midnight and that it was unclear where he was planning to go afterward.
After being notified Dec. 21 by her son’s roommates that Bartok had been missing for almost three days, DiNolfo filed a missing persons report with MPD.
“I burst into tears,” said DiNolfo, recalling the moment when she learned of her son’s disappearance. “For him to be missing that long, I knew immediately that it was not good and that he was probably dead.”
The following day, one of Bartok’s roommates went to the coroner’s office and identified the body, DiNolfo said. Since Bartok was found without his cell phone or wallet, he could not be identified immediately after his body was found.
Last week, DiNolfo traveled to D.C. to talk with MPD officials to persuade them that her son’s death was a result of “foul play” and not an accident or suicide. She has also interviewed dozens of her son’s friends in an effort to piece together the last hours of his life.
But the circumstances surrounding Bartok’s death are murky, as friends and family struggle to figure out where the student planned to go when he left McFadden’s and why his body was found near a bridge that connects D.C. and Virginia. The whereabouts of his pants, cell phone and wallet also remain a mystery.
Friends told DiNolfo that while her son drank champagne, tequila and wine at McFadden’s the night of his disappearance, he did not appear to be drunk when he left the bar.
“My son wasn’t that drunk. Why would he take all his clothes off in the middle of the night and throw himself into the river?” DiNolfo said. “That makes no sense.”
Heidi Anderson, a friend of Bartok’s who was at McFaddens with him, said that “he was more sober that night than any other.”
“He wasn’t drunk and he was very in control,” Anderson added.
Family members said they are frustrated with the amount of time it will take to determine the cause of death.
“I’m disappointed that it takes so long,” said Chris’ father, Philip Bartok.
DiNolfo said she was told that blood tests, which are being conducted at an Army laboratory, will not be completed for two or three months.
Adrian Lavallee, general counsel for the D.C. Medical Examiner’s Office, would not comment on the investigation but said the weeks-long inquiry into Bartok’s death was “not atypical.”
Lavallee said determining cause of death is a “medical decision that takes an unavoidably long amount of time in certain cases.”
“We understand the concerns …People wish we had staff levels to make and determine cause of death more quickly,” Lavellee said.
In the weeks before his death, Bartok showed no signs that anything was amiss, said his mother, adding that he was “so excited because he worked so hard” in studying for his final exams. She added that her son’s final exam grades were “very good.”
“He enjoyed law school,” said Philip Bartok, Chris’ father. “We talked about it and he felt it was a good thing for him.”
Bartok said he has received at outpouring of grief from Chris’ friends at GW and Caltech. On Friday, more than 200 friends, professors and family members held a memorial service for him in the Marvin Center’s Dorothy Betts Theater, and Caltech students will commemorate his life later this month.