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Students at Purdue University residence hall say they were left in the dark about killing for hours

“I had to Google it to find out what happened and was shocked that it was in our building," one student said.
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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Several students in the Purdue University residence hall where a student was killed early Wednesday said they had no idea there'd been a homicide there until hours later, when they learned about it from friends or the news or in an email from the school president.

A resident of McCutcheon Hall, the all-male dorm where senior Varun Manish Chheda was killed on the first floor, said he was in the dark even after having heard from university President Mitch Daniels.

“When I saw the email it didn’t even list which residence hall it happened at,” said Kolitha Perera, a freshman who lives on the fifth floor. “I had to Google it to find out what happened and was shocked that it was in our building.”

“We got most of our information from the news like everyone else,” he said.

Perera said he started school at Purdue two months ago, knows few people on campus and was left fearful after Chheda’s death. 

"I feel like this is something so big, and to not find out until several hours after — it was unsettling,” he said.

Asked why the university didn't alert students at McCutcheon Hall sooner, a university spokesman said the suspect, Ji Min Sha, who called 911 around 12:45 a.m. to alert police to Chheda’s death, was apprehended minutes later.

The spokesman, Tim Doty, cited a federal law and said there was no threat to the community.

"No timely warning was issued," he said, adding that it was "because it was determined by our police responders that there was no threat or danger to the community."

"As has been the case throughout history, institutions rely on media — local and national — to help inform the public of important information. The first statement to media was issued at 5:27 a.m. once additional details and facts were known. Parents and students were notified at 7:44 a.m. via email and social media."

The death of Purdue student Varun Chheda

  • Chheda's roommate, Ji Min Sha, called 911 to report the death and was taken into custody shortly after, officials said.
  • Sha is being held in the Tippecanoe County Jail. His bail has not been set, records show.
  • Chheda's death is Purdue’s first on-campus homicide in more than eight years, according to police.
  • Friends and classmates remembered Chheda as a dedicated and bright student who had a positive influence and loved his family.

Sha, who was Chheda’s roommate, was booked on suspicion of murder. As of Thursday night, Sha, 22, a cybersecurity major, hadn’t been charged.

A preliminary autopsy said Chheda died of “multiple sharp force traumatic injuries.” Homicide was listed as his manner of death.

In the email one student said he received around 6 a.m., nearly six hours after the killing was reported, Daniels briefly described the incident, reassured students about the importance of campus safety and said counseling services were available.

Some students who were gaming with Chheda when he appears to have been attacked reported hearing screams on a call through Discord, the instant messaging platform they were using to talk.

But others in the large red brick residence hall, home to more than 700 students, said they went to sleep “without knowing that there was a homicide seven floors below us,” as freshman Jibraan Ghazi put it. 

Parth Thakre, a freshman on the seventh floor, faulted the school for not alerting students earlier.

“I know there is a procedure,” he said. “I can see why they kind of delayed, because they got the guy. But they should have given us more information.”

Daren Smith, also a freshman, felt the same way.

“A text message would have been nice," he said. "I get that they didn’t want to induce panic, but we also probably shouldn’t have had to hear everything from the news.”

Safia Samee Ali reported from West Lafayette and Tim Stelloh from Alameda, California.