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Hundreds of Purdue students join vigil after ‘unprovoked and senseless’ homicide
Motive not revealed as a Purdue junior stabs, kills his roommate early Wednesday morning in their McCutcheon Hall dorm room.
In a case Purdue’s police chief called “unprovoked and senseless,” a Purdue student stabbed and killed his roommate early Wednesday morning in their dorm room in McCutcheon Hall.
Ji Min “Jimmy” Sha, a 22-year-old student from Seoul, South Korea, was arrested after he called police at 12:44 a.m. Wednesday to tell them that his roommate, Varun Manish Chheda, a 20-year-old senior from Indianapolis, was dead.
Purdue Police Chief Lesley Wiete said police arrested Sha in the two-person dorm room on the first floor of McCutcheon Hall – an all-male dorm that can house 730 students on the western edge of campus – shortly after they arrived.
Wiete said Wednesday morning that the only charge investigators were going for at that time was murder.
Wiete declined to say whether police found weapons in the room, saying it was part of an ongoing investigation.
Tippecanoe County Coroner Carrie Costello said a Wednesday morning autopsy showed the cause of death was a homicide, caused by “multiple sharp force traumatic injuries.”
As Sha, a junior studying cybersecurity, walked with Purdue police officers into the Tippecanoe County Jail, he responded to questions saying only: “I love my family.”
Wiete said there were witnesses at McCutcheon Hall, but she said they weren’t necessarily in the room. She said Chheda was awake at the time of the attack.
Wiete did not offer a potential motive in the killing. She said she was “hoping soon” to provide those details.
“I believe this was unprovoked and senseless,” Wiete said Wednesday morning.
Wiete said police and Purdue’s Dean of Students Office notified Chheda’s family early Wednesday.
“From the Purdue Police Department and Purdue University, our hearts go out to the victim and his family and friends and anybody who knew him or anybody he may have touched in his life,” Wiete said. “It’s extremely sad and unfortunate for us today, and I can’t even imagine what his family’s going through at this time.”
Efforts to reach Chheda’s family were not immediately successful Wednesday.
Chheda was a senior majoring in data science at Purdue. Chheda graduated from Park Tudor School, a private school in Indianapolis, in 2020. He was among the students inducted his senior year into the Cum Laude Society, a national organization modeled after the college scholastic fraternity Phi Beta Kappa. The school’s news feed listed frequent high finishes at regional and state math competitions. His senior year in high school, he was among six Park Tudor students named as a National Merit Finalist and four named as Presidential Scholar candidates.
Dennis Bisgaard, interim head of Park Tudor School issued this statement Wednesday: "The entire Park Tudor community is incredibly saddened by the tragic loss. Our prayers are with the family at this difficult time.”
Wednesday night, hundreds of Purdue students gathered in silence during an impromptu vigil organized by the Purdue Residence Hall Association at a campus landmark known as the Unfinished Block P.
During the day, students had been bringing bouquets and notes addressed to Chheda, some praising him as a lab partner, others anonymously saying they didn’t know him but were mourning, just the same, as Boilermakers.
After reminding students to take care and check in on one another, Claire Schnefke, president of the Residence Hall Association, invited students fanned out around the eight-foot-tall statue to write messages on sticky notes to attach them to the monument.
Joining a slow surge of students taking that invitation, Purdue junior Sarah Smith delivered a flower to a growing memorial at the base and gave a pat to a sticky note she said read, “No more.”
“This day is just incredibly hard for so many people I’ve seen,” Smith said. “I don’t get it. I just don’t get it.”
Beth McCuskey, vice provost for student life, which includes responsibility for residence halls, watched from the side.
“It’s very powerful,” McCuskey said. “It’s giving everyone a way to reflect in their own way. … It’s hard to make sense of today.”
Purdue Student Government, along with the Purdue Student Union Board, Residence Hall Association, the Honors College, the Asian American and Asian Resource and Cultural Center, the Bharatiya Temple and Cultural Center of Greater Lafayette, will hold another vigil at 8 p.m. Oct. 12 at Hovde Hall.
Before Wednesday, the most recent homicide on campus happened January 2014.
That morning, Cody Cousins, a 23-year-old senior from Warsaw, walked into a basement classroom in the Electrical Engineering Building and killed Purdue senior Andrew Boldt, who was instructing the class. Cousins was accused of stabbing Boldt 19 times and shooting him five times, then telling stunned classmates to call police. A West Lafayette police officer arrested Cousins outside the academic building near Northwestern Avenue shortly afterward. Cousins, accused of being motivated by academic jealousy, pleaded guilty, telling a judge at a September 2014 sentencing hearing: "I killed Andrew Boldt because I wanted to.” Cousins killed himself in a Michigan City prison cell in November 2014, one month into a 65-year sentence.
That murder led to the university issuing a shelter in place warning and canceling classes for the day. The case also led the university to produce a report recommending more timely campus notifications, better mental health counseling services and door locks to deal with emergencies on campus.
Campuswide notifications did not go out as police responded Wednesday morning to the homicide in McCutcheon Hall. And Purdue did not cancel classes Wednesday.
“In this situation, if we did not have the suspect in custody as quickly as we did, we would have absolutely sent out a Purdue alert,” Wiete said. “But had him very quickly. And there was no threat to campus by this individual any further.”
During the investigation, eight students living in rooms near the one shared by Chheda and Sha were moved to other rooms, but they had access to the first floor again by mid-morning Wednesday, university officials said.
MITCH DANIELS’ MESSAGE TO CAMPUS
Purdue students across campus woke up to a message from Purdue President Mitch Daniels, breaking the news about the homicide. Here’s the full version:
“Dear members of our Purdue community,
“I write to let you know that early this morning, one of our students was killed in his residence hall room. The suspect, the victim’s roommate, called police to report the incident and is in custody.
“This is as tragic an event as we can imagine happening on our campus and our hearts and thoughts go out to all of those affected by this terrible event.
“We do not have all the details yet. Our Purdue University Police Department is conducting a thorough investigation of this incident so that we all may learn more about what transpired.
“As is always the case, staff from our Office of the Dean of Students, our Residence Halls, and clinicians at Purdue’s Counseling and Psychological Services are providing support and are available to anyone who needs or wants their care.
“As Purdue's president, but even more so as a parent myself, I assure you that the safety and security of our students is the single highest priority on our campus. Purdue is an extraordinarily safe place on any given day, and compared with cities of Purdue’s population (approximately 60,000 in all), we experience a tiny fraction of violent and property crime that occurs elsewhere.
“Such statistics are of no consolation on a day like this. A death on our campus and among our Purdue family affects each of us deeply.
“I am ever grateful to all of you who continually take the time to care for each other and know you will do so in the days ahead.
“Sincerely, Mitch Daniels, president.”
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