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Grad student dies after fall from SciLi

After Hyoun Ju Sohn’s GS death, over 300 community members grieve at evening vigil

Updated April 1, 2015 at 2:25 a.m.

Hyoun Ju Sohn GS died Tuesday after falling through a 12th floor window of the Sciences Library just before noon.


Sohn was a first-year physics doctoral student from South Korea, President Christina Paxson P’19 wrote in a community-wide email Tuesday evening. He graduated from Columbia, where he completed his undergraduate studies, in 2013.


Lindsay Lague, public information officer for the Providence Police Department, told The Herald Sohn’s death was a suicide. Paxson called it “an apparent suicide” in an earlier email to the community Tuesday afternoon.


Sohn fell to the area between the library and the Center for Information Technology after breaking the window.


“Some students and staff walked by the body” before police officers roped off the area with yellow caution tape, said Thomas Doeppner, associate professor of computer science and vice chair of the department, who was in his office in the CIT at the time of the incident.


Sarah Perelman ’15, a former Herald science and research editor who was on the third floor when the student jumped, said police officers arrived at the scene within a minute and a half and covered his body.


Jodie Gill, program director for the Science Center, who was also on the third floor, said Providence Police officers were already at the library searching for a distressed student before the incident occurred. They told her they had been notified of a possible suicide attempt earlier in the day, she said. The Providence Police Department could not be reached by press time to confirm that they received such information.


The 12th floor was closed following the incident and remained closed at press time, though all other floors remained open.


Police cars and a truck from the Office of the State Medical Examiners lined Waterman Street, which was closed to traffic between Thayer and Brook Streets for at least an hour after the incident. The street had reopened by 2:15 p.m.


Paxson, Department of Public Safety Chief Mark Porter, Executive Vice President for Planning and Policy Russell Carey ’91 MA’06 and Vice President for Campus Life and Student Services Margaret Klawunn were all present at the scene.


Klawunn asked students to clear the area around 12:30 p.m. and pointed those seeking support to Counseling and Psychological Services and the Office of the Chaplains and Religious Life. Paxson also publicized the support resources available to community members in her emails.


Doeppner said the CS department asked CAPS representatives and deans from the Office of Student Life to “come over and talk to everyone who” witnessed the event. He sent an email to computer science students to let them know that support services were available at the CIT.


On Tuesday evening, over 300 community members gathered for a vigil on the steps of the Stephen Robert ’62 Campus Center to mourn Sohn’s death.


After student volunteers distributed candles and note cards to all in attendance, administrators and University chaplains spoke to the assembled community members. Audience members were encouraged to write down their fears, hopes and prayers on these pieces of paper, which were fed into a small fire at the gathering’s close.


Paxson struggled to speak to the crowd without crying. “I’m sorry, I can’t do this,” she said at one point during her address.


But she did communicate her main hope for the University. “It’s a time when we have to think — how can we care for each other better as a community?”


- With additional reporting by Baylor Knobloch


 A full list of support resources is available here.



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