Two suicides shook Cornell University early this summer, as the bodies of then-freshman engineering student Jun Wang and of a 27-year-old graduate student in Cornell’s math department were found in Fall Creek Gorge.
Wang was seen last in a West Campus residence hall at about 2 a.m. on Friday, May 19 — the last day of spring semester final exams.
The parents of Wang reported their son missing at 6 p.m. that evening, but search efforts were hampered by poor weather conditions, said Janet Shortall, assistant chaplain for the University. Shortall aided in support groups directed towards relatives and students most affected by the tragedy.
The stormy weather caused water levels in Fall, Cascadilla and Six-Mile creeks to rise and the water to turn murky. Parents waited out the search in the Statler Hotel. “It made it much harder on the parents that the student could not be found for nearly a week,” Shortall said.
Wang’s body was found on Friday, May 26, the beginning of Commencement Weekend.
Wang, 19, was an engineering major from Chevy Chase, Md. A classmate from Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School remembered Wang. “People were really shocked by this sad, sad, event. We couldn’t believe it could have happened,” said Michelle Silberstein, of Kensington, Md. “Friends thought Jun held such promise and such a bright future ahead of him,” she said.
Wang graduated from high school as a Maryland Distinguished Scholar and a recipient of the Rensselaer Polytechnics Institute Medal of Science. In high school, he served as a peer tutor and was on the math team there, according to Cornell News Service.
Ithaca Police Department, State Police and Cornell Police participated in the investigation, which turned up no evidence of foul play. The death was ruled a suicide, Ithaca police reported.
Wang is survived by his parents and a sister, all of Chevy Chase. A memorial service at Cornell will be held soon, said Linda Grace-Kobas, director of Cornell News Service.
The name of the graduate student found dead on July 2nd was not released immediately following the tragedy.
Ithaca and Cornell University police were called to the scene, under the Stewart Avenue bridge. Nine Ithaca firefighters rappelled 200 feet into the gorge to retrieve the body, securing the body after a one and a half hour effort.
Because fellow graduate students were staying in the Ithaca area over the summer, Cornell was able to hold a memorial service for the student on July 15.
“The Chinese Students Association was a great help to the parents, helping them obtain tickets and get to Ithaca all the way from China. They also really helped out others impacted by the tragedy,” Shortall said.
“Cornell benefits from very comprehensive support services,” Grace-Kobas said. “We try to make sure that if any kind of tragedy might happen and affect a student, there are people trained to contact the right people and arrange for academic and counseling help,” she said.
Still, “this has been a very hard year for student deaths at Cornell,” Shortall noted.
Services available for those facing suicide include the Suicide Prevention and Crisis Service at 272-1616, a 24-hour hot line . Call 272-1505 for the main office.
Archived article by Yoni Levine