MOSCOW (AP) _ An American exchange student in Moscow was strangled with a rope, then tossed off a 16th-story dormitory balcony, news reports said today.

Anthony Riccio, 21, of Glastonbury, Conn., had been in Russia only a few weeks when his body was found on the ground outside his dormitory Tuesday, a rope around his neck, the reports said, quoting a U.S. Embassy statement.

There was no one at the embassy today to comment on the death of the Brown University junior.

An autopsy shows he was strangled, the U.S. State Department said, according to NBC News.

''On the summary autopsy report the coroner underlined the word 'murder' to describe the death,'' a department statement said. The prosecutor's office has 10 days to decide whether the case merits a criminal investigation.

Riccio was studying in the American Collegiate Consortium, a program sponsored by Middlebury College in Vermont. He arrived in Moscow earlier this month to study at Russian State Humanities University for a year.

The other four Americans in the program are being moved out of the dormitory, consortium director Ray Benson said Friday.

The Baltimore Sun said the Russian university was making money on the side by renting dormitory rooms to non-students, including some low-level gangsters.

Newsday said much of the university's space is rented out to business enterprises with machine-gun-wielding guards, a common site amid the crime and corruption that plague post-Soviet Russia.

Russian police gave conflicting statements about Riccio's death and the Russian-language media ignored it.

Alexander Shlykov, a city prosecutor, said Riccio's body was found on the asphalt outside the building with one end of a rope around his neck and the other end tied to a fire escape.

''We cannot say now if this was a suicide or a murder,'' he said.

Vyacheslav Filippov, commander of the 136th police precinct in Moscow, said there was no suicide note. But, he added, ''I'm convinced this was a suicide.''

Riccio had visited Russia several times and had studied Russian for years. He planned to graduate from Brown in 1996 with a degree in Russian studies.

Friends and family described him as outgoing and said he swam competitively, played the cello and appeared happy.

''We spoke with our son for the last time a week ago Monday and he seemed completely normal and happy,'' his father, John Riccio, told the English- language Moscow Tribune.

The English-language Moscow Times said Riccio's family has hired a local attorney, Nikolai Solntsev, to investigate their son's death.