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Police: Suspect calls 911 after killing roommate in Purdue dorm room

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WISH) — A Purdue University student from Indianapolis died Wednesday in a homicide at an on-campus residence hall.

A photo of Varun Chheda in 2016.(Provided Photo/Sycamore School)

The Tippecanoe County Coroner’s Office identified the student as 20-year-old Varun Chheda. Chheda was a senior data science major.

Police have identified the suspect as Chheda’s roommate, Ji Min Sha, a junior cybersecurity major from Seoul, South Korea.

Sha called the Purdue University Police Department at 12:44 a.m. Wednesday and said his roommate was dead, according to Tim Doty, director of media and public relations at Purdue.

Sha was taken into custody shortly thereafter. On Wednesday afternoon, he was listed as being booked into the Tippecanoe County jail on a murder charge, according to information from Chief Deputy Terry Ruley of the Tippecanoe County Sheriff’s Office.

Purdue students and staff held a vigil Wednesday night on campus.

Doty says the killing took place in a room on the first floor of McCutcheon Hall, which is on the west side of Purdue’s West Lafayette campus. Several students living in rooms near the crime scene were temporarily relocated during the police investigation.

The university says it did not issue a “timely warning or alert” because there was no active threat to the community.

A preliminary autopsy, performed Wednesday, determined that Chheda’s cause of death was multiple sharp force traumatic injuries, and the suspected manner of death is homicide, Tippecanoe County Coroner Carrie Costello said in a statement. The final autopsy results were pending toxicology tests.

Campus police have not shared a possible motive for the killing but said they believe it was unprovoked.

Ji Min Sha (Provided Photo/Tippecanoe County Sheriff’s Office)

Classes at Purdue continued Wednesday as scheduled, but the university’s psychological services office, known as Counseling and Psychological Services, has clinicians available for walk-ins and will provide crisis support for students who need it, Doty says.

University president and former Indiana governor Mitch Daniels shared a statement:

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.

Chheda graduated from Park Tudor School. The school’s website says he was one of its finalists in the National Merit Scholarship program in 2020. Dennis Bisgaard, interim head of school, shared the following statement:

The entire Park Tudor community is incredibly saddened by the tragic loss of Varun Chheda, Park Tudor class of 2020. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family at this difficult time.

Chheda also previously attended Sycamore School in Indianapolis. The school sent this statement about Chheda:

Varun Chheda attended Sycamore School from Kindergarten through 8th Grade. He was a brilliant student, funny, and well liked by his classmates. He possessed admirable character traits that stemmed from his strong family.

Varun was a member of the Sycamore Science Bowl team that finished second in the nation in 2016 and eighth in the nation in 2015 at the National Science Bowl competition in Washington, DC.

Varun earned first place in the State Science Olympiad competition at Indiana University in 2015 for his presentation in the Environmental Chemistry category. He was also second in the state in the Solar System division.

He was a four-year member of the Sycamore MATHCOUNTS team and also earned first place honors in the state Concurso Academico Spanish competition in 2015 and 2016.

Diane Borgmann Head of School, Sycamore School

This is the first homicide on Purdue’s campus since January 2014 when student Cody Cousins fatally shot and stabbed teaching assistant Andrew Boldt inside of the Electrical Engineering Building during a class. When Cousins was sentenced in September 2014, he said he had lied to doctors and killed Boldt because he “wanted to.” Cousins killed himself days after arriving in state prison in Michigan City in October 2014.

“I feel really shocked and you would never expect especially someone as close as your roommate. My roommate, I didn’t even know him before I got here. Luckily, he’s Latino as well, so we’ve gotten along,” JJ Bueso, a student at Purdue University, said. 

“Something very sad and tragic that you never really expect to see happen on a campus like this,” Ethan Metzelaar, a student at Purdue University, said. 

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