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Indian American Teen Found Dead Near University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Died of Hypothermia

Indian American Teen Found Dead Near University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Died of Hypothermia

  • Akul Dhawan, 18, a freshman majoring in electrical engineering, was denied entry to a night club near campus, and died of “acute alcohol intoxication and prolonged exposure to extremely cold temperatures.”

Akul Dhawan, the Indian American teen who was found dead near the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign where he was a freshman, died of hypothermia. A news release from the Champaign County Coroner’s Office indicates that “acute alcohol intoxication and prolonged exposure to extremely cold temperatures, significantly contributed to his death.” 

The details come a month after the 18-year-old was found dead by a university employee on the porch of a building on Jan. 21, almost nine hours after his friend reported him missing. Originally from San Mateo, California, Dhawan was a majoring in electrical engineering. His father told The News-Gazette that his son’s “passion for robotics was what drove him to enroll in the University of Illinois’ Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.” His parents wanted him to go to school closer to home. 

A report in The Daily Illini, the independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois, notes that Dhawan had been out drinking with friends overnight. But around 11:30 p.m., his friends went into the Canopy Club . It was close to the campus, and a venue the friends had visited often, according to The Daily Illini. However, that night, the staff wouldn’t let Akula in. Surveillance video shows he tried to re-enter the Canopy Club “multiple times, but was repeatedly denied by staff,” the report said, citing investigators. He also turned down two rideshare vehicles called for him, the report added. 

It was cold night, The Daily Illini report said, noting that temperatures dropped to 27 degrees. Calls made to Dhawan throughout the night went unanswered, and a concerned friend contacted campus police to search for him. Police told The Daily Illini that “an officer looked for Dhawan by driving at a walking pace near the likely path he would have taken back to campus but did not see him.”

After his body was found, Dhawan’s parents  — Ish and Ritu Dhawan —had filed a complaint alleging that the university police officers were negligent while searching for their son after he went missing. They told The News-Gazette that location-tracking data on their son’s phone last showed he was outside Canopy Club in Urbana around midnight on Jan. 20 before the device ran out of battery. “We really need answers,” Ritu Dhawan told the publication. Father Ish Dhawan said it was “bizarre that a kid is never found who was just less than a block, like one minute away, sitting there, dead, frozen to death.” He said he visualizes “every minute that my son froze to death on a university campus.”

In a letter published in the News-Gazette on Feb. 6, they shared that they are devastated by the news of their son’s death. “We have a big massive hole left in our family; we will never be the same,” they wrote. It was Dhawan’s first week back at college following winter break, his parents said “Our son died in freezing conditions while at school on campus,” they wrote. “No parent should ever experience their child passing away on campus with no one to help him.” Noting they were “so proud” of their son for “completing his semester and thriving at the university,” they said he was “a very smart kid who had his whole life before him. 

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A candlelight vigil was on Feb. 11 on the college campus to honor Dhawan. His parents were also present. More than 100 students and parents attended the event organized by the Indian Graduate Students Association (IGSA). The vigil began at Alma Mater, The Daily Illini said. “From there, the procession walked down Green and Goodwin streets in silence before finally reaching the back porch of a building in the 1200 block of West Nevada Street, where his body was found.”

Jai Gupta, freshman in Engineering, told the paper that he was at the vigil “to pay respects to my friend that passed away.” He hoped that the event “brings closure to the people who were affected by his death, and I hope his parents can get something out of it as well.” Many of Dhawan’s spoke at the vigil, the paper said, adding, “many of them expressed just how easy he was to connect with and talk to, the new perspectives he frequently brought to them and how unique he was.”

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