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Purdue student arrested after allegedly stabbing roommate to death

Students attend a vigil for Varun Manish Chheda on Wednesday at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind. (Alex Martin/AP)

Purdue University students gathered quietly Wednesday night to hold a vigil and lay flowers around the Unfinished Block P statue, a sculpture erected in part to remember students who never got to finish their time at the West Lafayette, Ind., school.

The students were there for Varun Manish Chheda, a 20-year-old from Indianapolis who was stabbed to death earlier that day in his first-floor dormitory on Purdue’s campus. Purdue University Chief of Police Lesley Weite said police arrested Chheda’s roommate, 22-year-old Ji Min “Jimmy” Sha, on preliminary murder charges after Sha called 911 on himself around 12:45 a.m.

“[We] believe it was unprovoked,” Weite told reporters Wednesday, and called the fatal attack “senseless.”

“Our hearts go out to the victim and his family and friends. I can’t even imagine what his family is going through,” Weite said.

Weite cited the ongoing nature of the investigation as she offered few details Wednesday about the murder or a possible motive. She said officials believe Chheda was not asleep before the attack, and referenced several “possible witnesses” who were not in the room; reports from NBC News and other outlets said Chheda was gaming online and talking to friends on the social platform Discord when his friends suddenly heard screaming from his end of the call.

Sha, an international student from South Korea studying cybersecurity, is being held without bond at the Tippecanoe County Jail, and formal charges are expected. Tippecanoe County prosecutors did not immediately respond to requests for more details.

It was unclear Thursday if Sha had an attorney. He said little as police led him away in handcuffs after his arrest, with TV news crews capturing his brief words from behind a blue surgical mask: “I love my family,” he said.

Tippecanoe County Coroner Carrie Costillo on Thursday said the preliminary autopsy shows Chheda died of “multiple sharp force traumatic injuries,” and ruled his death a homicide. A final autopsy report is pending toxicology results.

News of a fatal stabbing at Purdue, which enrolls more than 50,000 undergraduates, came as a shock to students. Several who spoke to local TV stations and the independent student newspaper the Purdue Exponent, said they only learned of the killing when friends and relatives texted them the news and later, from a statement by Purdue President Mitch Daniels. (Daniels is a Washington Post contributing columnist.)

Daniels’s statement, released Wednesday, informed the campus community that a student was killed in his residence hall and that his roommate, the suspect, was in custody, but did not name either Chheda or Sha.

“Purdue is an extraordinarily safe place on any given day,” Daniels’s statement said, saying the campus, compared to the surrounding cities, experiences “a tiny fraction of violent and property crime that occurs elsewhere.”

“Such statistics are of no consolation on a day like this,” he added. “A death on our campus and among our Purdue family affects each of us deeply.”

Chheda’s relatives could not be reached for comment Thursday, though an online obituary remembered him as a curious and successful student studying data science — earning prestigious honors like a National Merit Scholarship Award and coming in as the national runner up in the Science Bowl Competition in 2016.

Photos shared by family friends showed the 20-year-old, who studied Taekwondo, clad in his white Dobok while executing powerful side and back kicks. Another photo showed his bespeckled face smiling as he peeked through a doorway.

“His parents were the luckiest and blessed to have him as a son,” read an online obituary. “He was the most caring and protective brother who played tricks galore and was his sister’s biggest champion.”

Chheda’s death was the first on Purdue’s campus since a fatal shooting nearly nine years ago when 23-year-old Cody Cousins fatally shot his fellow College of Engineering student Andrew Boldt, 21, in the basement of an engineering building. Cousins was convicted of murder and later killed himself in jail.

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