Audra Kooi – Staff Writer
20-year-old Varun Manish Chheda was murdered in his dorm at Purdue University on Oct. 5, 2022. His roommate, Ji Min Sha, called 911 around 12:45 a.m. that morning. The police took Sha into custody at Tippecanoe County Jail the same afternoon.
Chheda studied data science and on track to graduate early. A member of his middle school’s science bowl team, Chheda made it to the National Science Bowl competition in both 2015 and 2016. His academic success continued into high school where he was a semifinalist in the National Merit Scholarship program and a candidate for the 2020 U.S. Presidential Scholars Program, which honors the nation’s most renowned high school seniors.
Purdue held a vigil one week following Chheda’s death. His close friends and family were invited to say a few words to remember him.
“He had just texted his mom an hour before and told her he loved her,” Manish Chheda, Varun’s father said. “Something like this shouldn’t happen to a student in a college dorm room on a school night, just sitting at their desk.”
Chheda’s friends also made note of his character.
“[He] taught me the importance of genuine gratitude … [and the] importance of bettering myself for others,” Ben Carpenter, a long-time friend of Chheda, said.
Since being taken into custody, Sha has been charged with murder. When asked to comment, Sha said he was blackmailed but did not elaborate.
In the aftermath of Chheda’s death, the university’s professors did their best to be sensitive. Many allowed their students to skip class or reschedule exams. Grief counseling was also made available for students who reached out.
But this event still raises questions about safety on university campuses. When asked about their safety, several students at Purdue explained that the death of Chheda, while tragic, didn’t change how safe they feel on campus.
“I feel very safe on Purdue’s campus. I carry pepper spray with me, but I have carried it around since starting high school,” current Perdue student Jenna Scutt said. “I simply try to make smart choices and keep moving forward.”
After several incidents last year reported by The Diamond, the Dordt University administration decided to lock the doors of each dorm. Students now must always carry their student IDs for entry. This change was put in place to protect students from those outside of the Dordt school body. But the chilling effect is remembering this murder at Perdue happened between roommates. As crime changes, universities are forced to reevaluate their safety precautions to promote student safety.