‘I was blackmailed’ | Purdue University student makes claim during initial hearing on killing of roommate

The Tippecanoe County Coroner’s Office identified the victim as 20-year-old Varun Manish Chheda of Indianapolis.

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Purdue University police are investigating the homicide of a student at a residence hall overnight.

The student was identified as 20-year-old Varun Manish Chheda of Indianapolis. 

A university spokesperson said a 911 call came into the Purdue University Police Department at 12:44 a.m. Wednesday morning from McCutcheon Hall.

A suspect — Ji Min Sha — made the call and, according to court documents, said he had just killed his roommate with a knife. Responding officers found Sha in the room with blood on his clothing and body. 

Officers found Chheda dead in a chair. A folding knife was found on the floor. A preliminary autopsy Wednesday found Chheda’s cause of death was determined to be multiple sharp force traumatic injuries to Chheda’s head and neck.

Chheda was a junior at the university and studied data science. He was also in the Purdue Honors College.

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An obituary for Chheda said he ” loved the sciences, was very inquisitive and his passion for any subject matter was contagious.”

He was a National Merit Scholarship Award Winner and a national runner up in the Science Bowl Competition in 2016.  

A visitation for Chheda will be held Sunday, Oct. 9 from 2 to 5 p.m. at Leppert Mortuary – Nora, 740 East 86th St, Indianapolis, Indiana 46240.

In lieu of flowers, contributions in Varun’s memory may be made to Riley Children’s Foundation.

Ji Min Sha, 22, is a junior who is studying cybersecurity at Purdue. Police said Sha is an international student from South Korea.

Sha is being held on a preliminarily charge of murder. As he walked into the Tippecanoe County Jail, Sha twice said, “I love my family.”

Police are still trying to work out a possible motive for Chheda’s murder. They said it’s under investigation. According to Purdue Police Chief Lesley Wiete, she believes the crime was unprovoked and senseless.

When Sha was walking into an initial court hearing on Oct. 7, he was asked “why did you do it?” Sha can be heard responding, “I was blackmailed.”

A judge granted a continuance, which means Sha will face formal charges Oct. 13. He will be held without bond until then.

“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,” Purdue University President Mitch Daniels said in a statement sent to students and staff Wednesday morning.

As police investigated the incident, nearby students in McCutcheon Hall were moved to another area.

Chheda was remembered at a vigil Wednesday night at the Purdue Unfinished P. It’s a fitting place for the vigil. According to the university, the Unfinished P is a symbol that is meant to remind people to keep their Purdue experience close at heart, not just for themselves, but for all those who, for various reasons, didn’t get the opportunity to complete their Purdue experience.

Unfortunately, Chheda was one of those students.

This was Purdue’s first on-campus homicide since January 2014, according to the university. Classes also continued as scheduled Wednesday.

Purdue’s Counseling and Psychological Services department (CAPS) has clinicians available for walk-ins and will provide crisis support for students who need it, a university spokesperson said.

An investigation into the homicide is ongoing.

What we know about Varun Chheda

Dennis Bisgaard, interim head of school at Park Tudor, confirmed Chheda graduated from the private school on Indianapolis north side and released the following statement: 

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

Chheda attended Sycamore School from kindergarten through eighth grade, graduating from the school in 2016.

Sycamore School released the following statement to 13News about Chheda:

Varun was a brilliant student, funny, and well liked by his classmates. He possessed admirable character traits that stemmed from a strong family.

He was a member of the Sycamore Science Bowl team that finished 2nd in the nation in 2016 and 8th in the nation in 2015 at the National Science Bowl competition in Washington, DC.

Varun earned 1st place in the State Science Olympiad Competition at Indiana University in 2015 for his presentation in the Environmental Chemistry category. He was also 2nd 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 Académico Spanish competition in 2015 and 2016.

What we know about Ji Min Sha 

13News has learned Sha is a 2019 graduate of Lighthouse Christian Academy.

The school released the following statement to 13News: 

Our community is deeply saddened by recent events, and we grieve with the friends and family of Varun Chheda. Currently, we are cooperating with the local law enforcement investigation of the case. 

Mitch Daniels’ full 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.

Mitch Daniels

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