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'I want to stay here and be with him': Purdue students hold vigil for Varun Manish Chheda

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — As the sun began to set over Purdue University Wednesday, students could be seen gathering at the Unfinished Block P sculpture that sits just adjacent to the library.

The day had been confusing and heartbreaking.

Earlier Wednesday morning, their Boilermaker family lost a brother.

Varun Manish Chheda, a 20-year-old student was allegedly killed by his roommate in their first-floor dorm room in McCutcheon Hall.

Chheda's roommate, Ji Min Sha, 22, is jailed on suspicion of murder. He has not yet been formally charged.

“Why?”

“Why did this happen?”

Purdue student killed in dorm:What we know

That’s what many had been asking themselves all day as they had to go to class and go through the motions of a normal college day.

The day was not normal.

As the day progressed and more information came to light, one thing that became more apparent to the students across the campus — the unconditional love they held for a fellow Boilermaker.

To be honest, many who had gathered at the sculpture didn’t know Chheda personally. They may have known of him through classes, mutual friends or learned about him that morning.

That didn't matter. They did not want Chheda to spend the night alone.

Students leave notes and battery powered lights on the ‘Unfinished Block P’ during a vigil for Varun Manish Chheda, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022, at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind. Varun Manish Chheda, a student at Purdue, was killed inside McCutcheon Hall early Wednesday.
Students leave notes and battery powered lights on the ‘Unfinished Block P’ during a vigil for Varun Manish Chheda, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022, at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind. Varun Manish Chheda, a student at Purdue, was killed inside McCutcheon Hall early Wednesday.

By the time the moon had settled in place for the night, scores of mourners had gathered at the Unfinished Block P sculpture to be with Chheda.

The sculpture stands as a symbol of an incomplete Purdue experience, honoring those who, for whatever reason, did not get to finish their studies in West Lafayette. Chheda, a senior, did not get to finish.

“Naturally throughout the day. This thing. It stays in the back of your head, and it doesn’t really just go away,” said Yash Someyya, a junior studying Biology at Purdue.

Students attend a vigil for Varun Manish Chheda, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022, at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind. Varun Manish Chheda, a student at Purdue, was killed inside McCutcheon Hall early Wednesday.
Students attend a vigil for Varun Manish Chheda, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022, at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind. Varun Manish Chheda, a student at Purdue, was killed inside McCutcheon Hall early Wednesday.

“I think right now, I feel better just to know that there are people around who care, even though they didn’t necessarily know the person or even know his name. You find out this happened and that’s when you really learn about who this person was. So, I think it’s just good knowing that these people came out to respect a stranger.”

The university’s residence hall association and Asian American and Asian Resource and Cultural Center organized the candlelight vigil for Chheda. After a few quick comments to the crowd, students were allowed to leave notes on the sculpture for Chheda.

“You did not deserve this. You will always be loved. We will always keep you in our hearts,” reads the note that Shyamak Kulkarni left for Chheda.

As students took turns giving their respect to Chheda, others sat at a distance, contemplating the life that he would never be able to experience and the grief that his loved one must be going through.

Students leave notes and flowers at a vigil for Varun Manish Chheda, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022, at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind. Varun Manish Chheda, a student at Purdue, was killed inside McCutcheon Hall early Wednesday.
Students leave notes and flowers at a vigil for Varun Manish Chheda, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022, at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind. Varun Manish Chheda, a student at Purdue, was killed inside McCutcheon Hall early Wednesday.

“It’s strange that — It’s just weird to think about the fact that he’s a student like me. You just think about like what would have happened if he would have gotten his graduate certificate. He could have gotten married. Like the family, he would have had if he had gotten married, and his children that wouldn’t be born now. All of his experiences and life is gone,” said William Road, a freshman studying engineering at Purdue.

“I’m still trying to process everything. Because it just doesn’t feel real to me. I’m not the kind of person who likes to see someone die, especially if I didn’t know them. Like, if they were a close person, I would definitely be feeling the same way. I can’t imagine how his parents are feeling right now and his friends. I mean, it’s just a terrible loss for everyone,” said Ayo Obayomi, a junior at Purdue.

The grief that fell upon the Boilermaker family went beyond just the students, as the facility and staff could be seen paying their respects for Chheda from a distance.

Many stood in silence, there for the grieving students. A few held back their tears.

Yonghee Lee, a staff member at Purdue, didn’t want to leave Chheda’s side that night. Whenever he thought about Chheda, he couldn’t stop thinking about his children, who were close to Chheda’s age. He couldn’t stop thinking about Chheda’s parents and the pain that they must be going through that night.

To ensure that Chheda would not be alone that night, Lee went to the vigil to be with him, as a Boilermaker parent.

“I’m glad that I got to see many of the Purdue family come here for him. I want to stay here and be with him,” said Lee.

“I’m sorry today was the first day I said your name. Rest in Peace,” read the note that Lee held in his hand for Chheda.

Noe Padilla is a general reporter for the Journal & Courier. Email him at Npadilla@jconline.com and follow him on Twitter at 1NoePadilla.

This article originally appeared on Lafayette Journal & Courier: Purdue student killed in dorm: Vigil on university campus