First-year student Shawn West ’24 studied computer science in the College of Arts and Sciences.

April 10, 2021

Missing First-Year Cornell Student Found Dead

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After more than a day of search, Shawn West ’24 was found unresponsive in a dorm room on Friday afternoon. The first-year’s death was shared in a Saturday email to campus; he was last seen Tuesday morning in Ujamaa Residential College, the North Campus program house where he lived. The University did not share whether the cause of West’s death is known. 

West was reported missing by a parent in New York City on Wednesday afternoon, according to a Thursday campus-wide statement from Ryan Lombardi, Vice President for Student and Campus Life. 

West, an 18-year-old student in the College of Arts and Sciences, studied computer science. On campus, he was a resident in Ujamaa, a multi-year residential community for Black Cornellians. West hailed from Brooklyn, New York, and graduated from the Beacon School, according to his profile. West had been a Code Next fellow at Google before attending Cornell.

“He was a promising young computer coder, who enjoyed developing video games, refurbishing vintage game consoles and was interested in the human impacts of technology and the relationships between users and devices,” Lombardi wrote in a Saturday statement. “He also enjoyed photography and composing poetry on an old Royal typewriter.”

West was involved in several clubs on campus, including the Office of Spirituality and Meaning-Making, the Skateboarding Club and Zen Meditation at Cornell, Lombardi shared. 

After he was reported missing Wednesday afternoon, the Cornell University Police Department searched the area with the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office, the Ithaca Fire Department and Cornell Botanic Gardens staff, according to CUPD Chief David Honan. 

“On behalf of the Cornell community, I extend my deepest and heartfelt condolences to Shawn’s parents and family, including his sister who is a Cornell alumna, as well as his friends and peers. Please keep them in your thoughts during this difficult time,” Lombardi wrote. 

The Baker Flagpole flew at half-staff on Friday and Saturday, after West was announced missing on Thursday. Residents in Ujamaa were informed of his death earlier on Friday afternoon, according to multiple students present. Students gathered physically together, and also had an option to gather virtually for support, Lombardi said. 

Baker flagpole flies at half-staff on April 9.

“[We] provided support in person and virtually to try to make sure those that were closest to Shawn had the support they needed in the moment of learning of his passing,” Lombardi told The Sun. The University delayed a public announcement of the student death at the request of West’s family

This is the fourth unexpected student death in the past school year. At the end of the fall semester, chemistry and chemical biology Ph.D. student Wai Hang (Will) Lee died unexpectedly; in December, environment and sustainability student KAR Robison ’22 died unexpectedly. Health care policy student Matthew Crovella ’23 died unexpectedly of a medical episode in late January. 

Expanded support will be available on Saturday and Sunday for grieving students, and Lombardi noted academic accommodations should be accessible to those who ask. Community meetings will be held virtually Saturday and Sunday, and a spiritual support space will be held online on Sunday as well. 

Madeline Rosenberg ’23 contributed reporting. 

Students in need of professional mental health support can call Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) at 607-255-5155 and employees can call the Faculty and Staff Assistance Program (FSAP) at 607-255-2673. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all CAPS and FSAP services are currently being delivered via telehealth. Whenever these services are closed, calls are answered by Cornell Health’s on-call mental health provider. The Ithaca-based Crisisline is also available at 607-272-1616. A wide range of supportive resources is also available at

Correction, April 10, 12:49 p.m.: A previous version of this article wrote that West was found in his dorm room. He was found within a residence hall room, but not in his room. The Sun regrets this error.