CMU student plunges to death

Stairwell had poem with dark humor

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The eight-story stairwell in which a 19-year-old Carnegie Mellon University student apparently jumped to his death Thursday afternoon was known among students as "Architect's Leap" and "Suicide Stairs."

Rohan Vakharia, a sophomore computer science major from Gainesville, Fla., was pronounced dead at the base of the stairwell at 4:15 p.m. Thursday in Wean Hall, an academic classroom and office building.

The Allegheny County medical examiner's office ruled his death a suicide.

Police said that they recovered a note at the scene.

Less than 24 hours after his death, university officials removed a poem that had been scribbled anonymously with dark humor on the underside of the concrete stairs, visible to anyone walking down the steps.

The poem, written in black, read: "If you're feeling like a jerk 'cause your project just won't work, go ahead and take the leap, then you'll finally get some sleep."

CMU spokesman Ken Walters said the university was not aware the poem was there, and officials had it removed following Mr. Vakharia's death. Mr. Walters said he was not aware of any previous injuries or deaths occurring in the stairwell.

Karen D. Boyd, dean of student affairs, sent an e-mail to the student body yesterday informing them of Mr. Vakharia's death and advising them that counseling services were available to all students, faculty and staff.

Mr. Vakharia, who was enrolled in the School of Computer Science, lived in Morewood Gardens residence hall. He was a graduate of Eastside High School in Gainesville, Fla.

"This is a terrible tragedy, as with the death of any young person," Mr. Walters said. "Our focus is on support for the family and for his friends and faculty. We are continuing our outreach to them, as they are to one another, consistent with the values of our community."

Freshman Harrison Rose was introduced to Mr. Vakharia Wednesday at his introductory physics class for engineering students. Mr. Vakharia was named as the supplementary instructor, a type of teaching assistant, for Mr. Rose's class, which is held in Doherty Hall, a building connected to Wean.

At the beginning of that class yesterday, Mr. Rose said his professor made a brief statement about the tragedy of Mr. Vakharia's death.

CMU junior Destiny Ridguard of Burtonsville, Md., said the poem had been there at least since she became a student at CMU in the fall of 2007.

"When I first saw it, I was like, 'man this is ridiculous,' but you don't really think about it because all you are doing is walking through the stairs," she said.

A chalk outline of a body, created in imitation of a crime scene, had been drawn on the base of the stairwell a few years ago, but that was removed and had not been there recently, Mr. Walters said.

CMU has 10,000 undergraduate and graduate students. In the last 10 years, Mr. Walters said, the school has had seven suicides.


Kaitlynn Riely can be reached at kriely@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1478.


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