Feb. 23, 2018
The student set her pot of mung bean soup to simmer in her West Lafayette kitchen, turning it to the “keep warm” setting. It was midnight. She had a 9 a.m. class the next day, and she drank a glass of wine around 9 p.m. The next morning, she planned to wake up at 8 a.m., drink the soup for breakfast, then head straight to class.
She turned and walked up the stairs to her room, lay down in her bed and fell asleep.
Four hours later, she later recalled, Jennifer opened her eyes to the harsh glare of hospital lighting and found herself in the emergency room of IU Arnett hospital in Lafayette.
“Where am I?” she said, turning to the nurse next to her. “What happened to me?”
“You’re in the hospital,” the nurse replied. “Your roommates found you at the bottom of the stairs.”
Jennifer’s co-workers had been dropping weight quickly.
“I was looking at my co-workers, and the results were very obvious,” she said. “When a girl is 140 pounds, she looks a little fat. When she gets to 120 pounds, you think she is kinda skinny. When she gets to 110 pounds, you think she is very skinny.”
“I am naturally a little bit on the heavier side,” Jennifer said. “And when I saw them dropping weight, I thought I could do it, too.”
Jennifer, who is in her last year as a student in the College of Liberal Arts, was in her home country of China for an internship in fall 2017 when she first learned her co-workers were using a weight-loss drug called “DC.”
Jennifer, who is transgender, requested that The Exponent refrain from using her actual name and refer to her using she/her pronouns.
“I asked them where they got the drug, and they told me they bought it using their phones,” Jennifer said.
The process for buying the drugs involved a supplier in Thailand, Jennifer said. She was given the contact information for a seller who exported general goods, which included the weight-loss pills.
Every month, Jennifer would send 2,500 yuan — about $300 — to the exporter in exchange for a month’s worth of the pills.
“I ate about 20 pills every day,” she said, adding that she started at 15 per day. “Ten pills in the morning, 10 pills in the evening.”
Despite the number of pills she took, Jennifer wasn’t feeling any side effects other than needing to use the restroom more and losing her appetite.
“I didn’t even feel like I was sweating more often — you could say that I was living a completely normal life,” she said. “I think the only reason I went to the bathroom more often was because (the instructions) told me to drink more water.”
In three months, she claims, she lost 50 pounds.
By mid-January, after she returned to Indiana from China to finish her final year at Purdue, Jennifer said she had hit her target weight and was looking for other avenues to keep her weight down.
“I had stopped taking the pills daily,” she said. “I was curious to see if I would rebound, but nothing happened.”
Jennifer said she thought the food in America was less oily and would be healthier, and she wanted to start exercising, too.
And then she fell down the stairs.
Feb. 23, 2018
The person who called 911 that early Wednesday morning in February 2018 told the officer to go around back, since their roommate had fallen down the stairs and blocked the front door, according to the reporting officer’s narrative.
“Once inside I made my way to the stairs where I found the victim,” the officer said, “(who) was curled up in a ball with (her) feet sticking through the rails of the stairs with (her) head on the floor under a shelf which had broken and landed on (her) head.”
Jennifer, who was completely naked at the time, later said she didn’t remember anything about the incident.
“I don’t know if I was sleepwalking or I got up to get a glass of water,” she said.
When the medics tried to ask her questions, the officer’s narrative said, Jennifer was unable to answer questions and waving her arms around.
“In an attempt to discover what was causing (the victim) to be in this altered state of mind, myself and (another officer) went to (the victim’s) room,” the narrative said. “Upon entering (the victim’s) room I noticed a bag of what I believed, due to my training and experience, to be spice.”
Along with the “spice” — the colloquial name for synthetic marijuana — the officer said he found about 30 to 40 carbon dioxide cartridges that had been punctured and used, along with a bong. He wrote that he also found several small clear plastic baggies with unknown pills.
“Due to the large amount of pills located and the large amount of spice located in the room, it was believed that (the victim) might be dealing these items out of (her) home,” the report said.
For weeks after the incident, Jennifer said she checked her mailbox for a court summons but found nothing.
“I hadn’t received anything since then,” she said. “At that time I thought, ‘Am I going to be in trouble? Will the police call me or anything?’ Well, no. Within two months, nothing came to me.”
Though Jennifer was worrying about receiving a ticket, her case wasn’t even close to moving forward yet. The Indiana State Police’s Lowell Regional Labs did not start analyzing the drugs and leafy substances found in Jennifer’s room until nearly 10 months later.
“The tests themselves don’t take a lot of time,” ISP South Zone Drug Unit Supervisor Elizabeth Griffin said in an email.
The tests usually take between 15 minutes and hour, she said, but it sometimes takes a while to get to them.
“We are quite backlogged,” Griffin said. “So oftentimes it’s months before we get to a case.”
That summer, Jennifer returned to China to spend time with her mother, who was ill. But when she returned to West Lafayette in July 2018, Jennifer also fell ill and returned to China for the rest of the year.
She said she had started to feel strange the semester she got back but stuck through until the summer.
“I could feel that my body wasn’t the same,” Jennifer said.
Along with feeling like she had less stamina, at one point Jennifer completely lost the ability to walk.
“I couldn’t move my feet up and down and all the muscle of my lower body,” she said. “My immune system started to attack my nerves.”
Jennifer spent a year undergoing treatment and physical therapy in China, but some things never fully healed.
“I forever lost some part of my body functions,” she said. “Like no, I can’t move my toes like this. Like, spread (my) toes.”
After her recovery, she returned to Purdue and moved into a new apartment to finish her academic career. She also decided she wanted a puppy. More specifically, a corgi. She had an Emotional Support Animal ID registered on Oct. 7.
And the pet-buying site, with its American Kennel Club certification, seemed trustworthy to Jennifer. So she sent the breeder an email, who asked her to make an $800 payment through Chase Bank. When she asked, the breeder sent a video of the dog at the airport. Then the fees started stacking up.
First, it was a $2,500 fee for a thermal crate.
Then, it was another $1,000 for vaccines.
“It was my first time buying a dog,” Jennifer said. “So I chose to send him the money.”
But after the breeder requested a fee to administer a vaccine to the supposedly 4-week-old puppy, Jennifer began to grow suspicious.
“I just called him, and I figured out the breeder and deliverer were the same person, and that it was definitely a scam,” she said. “So I reported the scam to the police.”
Jennifer said when she reported the scam on Oct. 10, police officers visited her to gather more information.
The police returned to her door at her apartment at 1 a.m. on Oct. 23.
“They didn’t deal with the scam,” she said. “Instead of dealing with the scam, they took me.”
She was sleeping in her new West Lafayette apartment when they showed up. Jennifer said the police told her they had found the scammer in Alabama.
“Could you open the door?” Jennifer remembered the officer saying. “Then they asked if I could step out and I said, ‘Yes, of course.’ And then they put me in handcuffs and took me.”
The police told her she was being arrested for not showing up in court, she said.
Less than two weeks before she had called the police to report the puppy scammer, it turned out, a court order had been sent to her old address, where she lived during the winter of 2018 and where the police had found her lying at the bottom of her stairs more than a year and a half ago.
“Moved left no address,” court records state.
Nine days later, a warrant was issued for her arrest. And four days later, officers showed up at Jennifer’s apartment door.
Later that same day, Jennifer remembered officers asking her what she knew about drugs.
“Do you know what spice is?” she said one of the officers asked her.
Jennifer said she didn’t. By this time, lab tests for the substances found in Jennifer’s room had come back. What the officer thought “due to his training and experience to be spice” was actually sage, she said, something she had bought at a shop in Lafayette.
“Is that laughing gas or marijuana?” she remembered responding to their question.
“Is that what they call it in China?” they replied.
It was early in the morning of Oct. 23. Jennifer was booked into the Tippecanoe County Jail, where she was without help.
“All my friends, they graduated,” she said. “I only have two friends that I could call. I called them but none of them answered.”
The phone provided in the jail couldn’t make international calls, Jennifer said, leaving her unable to talk to her family.
“I have no one to call, no one to contact,” she later said. “So I’m really helpless.”
Along with being stranded in jail without anyone to bail her out, Jennifer said she was unfairly treated.
“At that time, I was f----- up. It was like this anxiety just suddenly kicks in in this small jail room,” she said. “At the jail, I was always the last one. They call for the minister, you know, they ask you questions. I was always the last one. And I got treated really bad.”
The jail guards allegedly told her, “You talk too loud. You hurt my ears. Can you just be quiet for a little bit?”
“You can’t treat me like that,” she told them. “Even though now I’m in the jail, I’m still innocent.”
She was set free 13 hours later, when she told a judge the incident had happened almost two years earlier.
Jennifer was initially charged with one felony and two misdemeanors: possession or use of a legend drug, possession of a synthetic drug and possession of a controlled substance.
But after the inspection of lab results, which were completed in February 2019, all charges were dropped in lieu of a diversion agreement — community service and a fine.
Four types of tablets and capsules were submitted to the lab, along with the bag of 41.76 grams of a green, leafy substance.
Of the four tablets, the only controlled substance identified was chlordiazepoxide. Chlordiazepoxide is an anxiety treatment medication in the benzodiapan family, according to the National Institute of Health. No controlled substances were found in the green, leafy substance after four tests were run, according to the lab.
“We do a series of tests to confirm marijuana, including color testing, thin-layer chromatography and microscopic examination,” Griffin said.
Identifying synthetic marijuana requires additional testing such as “gas chromatography — mass spectrometry,” she said.
The substance identified by the officer at the scene almost two years ago as “spice” was tested as such, but the report stated no controlled substances were found.
Neither Jennifer’s attorney, Brian Dekker, nor Tippecanoe County Prosecutor Pat Harrington responded to multiple requests for comment on the case.
“I had wanted to lose weight for a long time,” Jennifer said. “And I wanted to find a quick way to do it.”
Peer pressure to lose weight — and weight-loss pills to help lose it — are common in China, she said. For her, seeing her colleagues' success only increased the pressure to try something to lose weight.
“Asian people, in general, like slimmer girls more,” she said. “The skinnier, the prettier. ... If a Chinese girl was 130 pounds, she would consider herself to be very fat. She would have to lose 30 pounds before considering herself skinny.”
“Be careful of what you’re taking,” Jennifer said she would tell others. “Its effects on me have gone beyond just physical health.”
If she hadn’t fallen down the stairs, this would never have happened, she said.
“I’d have a stable job,” Jennifer said. “If this never happened, I wouldn’t have rebounded and grown fat again. It has had an enormous impact on my life.”
“I wanted beauty. I wanted love, fame (and) fortune,” she said. “But the universe said I couldn’t have it all.”
She said even though she is healthy now, the incident still left a large impact on her life.
“I have anxiety,” Jennifer said. “After I went into jail, it got worse. I couldn’t even fall asleep. Every night since I was arrested, I feel like someone might knock on my door, and take me at night.
“It really makes me nervous.”
Interviews with Jennifer were conducted in both English and Mandarin.