Vijay Tummalapenta sat on the firm green sectional in the McCutcheon Residence Hall lobby, sleep-deprived and scared, surrounded by five of his neighbors who also lived in the furthest corner of the basement.

Questions and theories swirled in their heads as police officers shuffled in and out of their floor in the very early hours of Oct. 5.

Just three hours earlier, Tummalapenta said he was celebrating his friend’s birthday at Shreve Residence Hall when he heard his phone ringing. The first-year engineering student picked up the call from his roommate’s phone and heard his resident assistant’s voice.

“‘Something happened, you can’t go back into your dorm for probably 24 hours, so if you need anything come back now and grab your stuff,’” Tummalapenta said, quoting his RA.

Tummalapenta found out the next morning that his neighbor in the room across from his, Varun Chheda, was stabbed and killed the night before. Chheda’s roommate, Ji Min Sha, is charged with his murder and two psychiatrists have been appointed to evaluate him for competency.

An hour before Tummalapenta received the phone call, Ethan Haynes was relaxing in his room and getting ready for bed after a long day of classes. Haynes, a freshman in the College of Engineering, said he usually blocks out the noise of an all-boys-residence hall with his headphones, but they had broken earlier that day.

“All I heard was a scream, someone saying something like ‘shit’ and another scream. That was it,” Haynes said.

Haynes and his roommate at the time briefly checked the hallway but didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary. They assumed it was just somebody “horsing around” as usual.

“Then 30 minutes later, we were like, ‘That sounded a little blood curdling,’” Haynes said.

They went out to recheck the hallway. Haynes filled up his water bottle. That’s when the police arrived and entered the room two doors down from theirs. He said they were sent back to their rooms, told to lock their doors and a sleepless night ensued.

“The cops came by, and they were running, so I assumed something was up,” he said.

Hearing pieces of conversation from the officers outside their dorm, Haynes and his roommate realized someone had died. They were likely the first residents on the first floor to know what happened.

Later across the hallway, Justice Johnson woke up around midnight, which was unlike him. He left his dorm to go to the bathroom and saw blue disposable curtains hung up across the hallway but didn’t pay much attention to them and went back to sleep.

“Well, I didn’t think much of it because I just didn’t have the mental capacity to process it,” the first-year engineering student said.

Johnson’s roommate, Jackson Pittman, said his first semester persuaded him to transfer out of Purdue next semester, but perhaps had Chheda not been killed, he would have gone out more and been more involved in his classes.

“I don’t think my experience is really reflective of most people’s, but it was also just really, really bad.”

Pittman said his overall experience at Purdue got worse after October. He said he felt uncomfortable leaving his dorm and socializing with other people, and many of his professors weren’t accommodating of the circumstances.

Pittman had becomes friends with Chheda after meeting him at the floor dinner in the beginning of the semester after an ultimate frisbee game. Later they found out that they were in the same calculus section and would talk about the lectures and grab dinner together.

On the night of the alleged murder, Pittman was in the bathroom closest to Chheda and Sha’s bedroom when he heard screaming and banging.

“I didn’t know what to think,” Pittman said. “It was such a weird thing that I didn’t think about the actual implication of the way the sounds were made.”

Similarly to Haynes, Pittman thought it was someone yelling at a video game or arguing about something.

Tummalapenta said he and the other students who lived at the end of the hallway past the makeshift curtains were relocated to auxiliary housing beds in the Shreve Residence Hall basement for the night.

They were sent past the curtains one-by-one to pack up necessities from their dorms.

“I got my toothbrush, a pair of clothes and my book that I needed for the next day, and that was pretty much it,” Tummalapenta said.

The next morning, Tummalapenta woke up to missed calls from his family and found out why he was moved from his room.

“They got the article (about the incident) from a family friend, and they were asking me if I was OK,” he said.

Tummalapenta’s parents were just one of many parents concerned by the situation.

“I had gotten more calls from parents that day than the rest of the semester combined,” said Zachary Walter, a sophomore in Daniels School of Business and one of the clerks at the McCutcheon front desk who worked his 11 a.m. shift the day after the alleged murder.

Walter said most of the parents called concerned about their child’s roommate situation and requested a change.

For the next couple of weeks, Tummalapenta said he felt on edge at times. His parents, who live in New Jersey, tried to persuade him to take the semester off and come back home, but he decided to stay and complete his first semester.

“I was thinking about (leaving) for a while,” Tummalapenta said. “It was hard to look past what happened, but other than that, I had a very good time here.”

But Tummalapenta said there are still days when he feels anxious.

“It comes up every once in a while, especially when I look at that door because it’s right across from my room, but it’s not as bad as it was before,” he said.

Others have had a harder time recovering.

Haynes went to class the morning after the incident, despite being exhausted from not sleeping the night before, and tried to continue his routine as usual.

“I was just out of it for about a week, and then I had my first panic attack,” he said.

Haynes noticed his grades taking a steep downward turn along with his mental health and reached out to Counseling and Psychological Services for help.

“Through therapy, I learned that there was nothing I could have done,” Haynes said.

Haynes received some grace on assignments from professors and continued therapy through CAPS until the week before finals week. He felt like he’d mostly recovered from the trauma of the incident, but certain habits and triggers still affect him.

“Any high pitch noises, like a car alarm, gets me on edge and looking around,” he said.

Pittman visited the CAPS therapists who were stationed in the McCutcheon lobby the morning of the incident to offer support to students.

“They sat me down for maybe five minutes and were like, ‘Hey, I know everyone processes grief in different ways,’” Pittman said. “And they handed me a pamphlet that had the Kubler-Ross model of grief on it.”

Pittman said that his interaction with CAPS felt very out of touch, but there was an RA from another floor who was willing to talk with him about the situation.

“I sought (CAPS) out once to go to in-house therapy, but I didn’t find that extremely helpful either,” he said, closing his eyes to regain his thoughts. “It just felt very non-supportive.”

Pittman woke up the morning after the incident to Johnson telling him the news that an alleged murder had happened on their floor and several missed calls from his parents.

“I called my mom back, and she was like, ‘I heard there was a shooting,’” Pittman said. “And my dad said he heard there were multiple people who got hurt.”

In the midst of the misinformation and confusion, Pittman looked at the email from then-President Mitch Daniels to find answers. To Pittman’s dismay, the email did not explain what happened but instead talked about how the campus was safe.

“I think that was the only correspondence I got from Purdue of information about what happened,” the freshman said after taking a deep sigh. “They didn’t clear anything up, really. They just said you’re safe in the building, don’t worry. Campus police took care of it.”

Pittman wasn’t the only student disappointed by Purdue’s response.

“The day after, class was just like normal; nobody talked about it,” Johnson said. “It was a bit weird because I lived there, and I was right next to it, and nobody said anything.”

Michael Uremovic, a freshman in the Daniels School of Business who lived on the opposite side of the McCutcheon basement, said he was particularly disturbed by the campus tours still going around the residence halls.

“You could have given it a day,” Uremovic said. “You have the entire student body walking around campus when someone just got (stabbed), and then you have people trying to sell Purdue.”

Uremovic said the administration’s handling of the situation felt impersonal and made him feel like he and other students were viewed as a “dollar sign” by the university.

“It made me, as a student in my first semester, feel very insignificant,” he said. “It’s hard to think that the administration cares about each and every student, but then again, since it’s such a large institution that runs like a machine, it’s kind of hard to expect it to.”

Pittman said he is still seeking help and trying to move on from the incident. He said he faced sleeping issues and felt uncomfortable on the other side of the hallway.

“It is still happening. I still can’t really go on that side,” he said.

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