Parents say student found dead on University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus was an “energetic, happy-go-lucky kid”

URBANA — University of Illinois student Akul Dhawan didn’t make it home from a back-to-school party during the subzero weather on Saturday, January 20.  

A friend called campus police Dhawan, about an hour after midnight that night. It wasn’t until 10 hours later that someone — not the police — found the 18-year-old dead on a nearby porch. 

His parents, Ish and Ritu Dhawan from California, have filed a complaint against the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign police department for negligence. 

Illinois Public Media education reporter Emily Hays spoke with Akul Dhawan’s parents. 

Akul Dhawan as a child.

[Hays]: Would you tell us more about your son? What was he like as a little one? What were his aspirations?

[Ish Dhawan]: He was a very bubbly, energetic, happy-go-lucky kid who was always interested in building things. From a very young age, he was passionate about building Legos. As he grew up in middle school and high school, he was more into robotics. One of the reasons he chose UIUC is because he wanted to do his undergraduate at the College of Engineering.

He was always always interested in high-tech gadgets. And he was very passionate about doing something that would make lives better for people.

[Hays]: What were some ideas he had? 

[Ish Dhawan]: One of his projects during the COVID was to to write a program where people impacted by COVID could seek help, and he would find volunteers who could help people who had no means or who did not have relatives, so that the volunteers could could help people who were impacted by COVID. That was his high school project.

[Hays]: When was the last time you spoke with your son?

[Ish Dhawan]: This is one of the regrets my wife had that she did not talk to him on Friday.

[Ritu Dhawan]: I never called him. I’m never gonna see my son again. I can’t believe that I didn’t talk to him on Friday. 

[Ish Dhawan]: We did not speak with him on Friday. I think I spoke with him on Thursday. I texted him I think that day or a day before saying, “Do not go outside, don’t wander outside. It is very cold.” And look what happened.

[Hays]: When did you first realize something was wrong?

[Ish Dhawan]: A friend of his called our daughter in the morning and said, “The police are looking for him. We don’t know where Akul is.” 

I got so scared. I immediately went online and found the UIUC police number. It was Saturday morning in California, around I believe 10 o’clock Pacific Time. 

I called the police. And the police transferred me after a few minutes of waiting to the coroner’s office, and they told me Akul is deceased. Imagine that. 

We never heard anything from the university. I called the police. I found out. Nobody told us anything that was going on. Nobody told us what happened.

[Hays]:Do you have any sense of what he was up to that evening?

[Ish Dhawan]: He went to a back-to-school night party. He got separated from his friends about 1:23 am. His friends called the police and they said they can’t find their friend and his friend gave the location to the police, which was just outside the Canopy Club. The friend waited for half an hour. The police never came. 

Around 3 am, the police called the same friend and asked him, “Have you seen your friend? Did you find your friend?” 

Then they said, “Do you know what he was wearing?” So the police never looked for him. They never searched for him. 

He was found just 400 feet from where he was reported missing. 

[Hays]: The university said that the police checked the area, that they checked the path to his residence hall, and checked whether his ID was swiped anywhere.

[Ish Dhawan]: I need answers from the police. Where did you go to find him? When did you go?

[Ritu Dhawan]: What kind of search did they perform in that area? He was right there.

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign spokesperson Robin Kaler declined a radio interview. 

Champaign County Coroner Stephen Thuney found hypothermic changes on Dhawan’s skin but said he doesn’t know his cause of death yet. He said it seems to be an accident.

Emily Hays is a reporter for Illinois Public Media.

Ready to thaw out? Temperatures rise above freezing for the first time in days

Meteorologists in Central Illinois are forecasting temperatures above freezing. Check here for the latest from the National Weather Service in Lincoln and IPM News meteorologist Andrew Pritchard. This post will be updated at various times.


Click here for winter road conditions.

Click here for school closings/delays/e-learning days for January 23.

Meteorologist Andrew Pritchard’s forecast:

Tuesday: cloudy with areas of dense fog and a chance of light rain or drizzle and a high of 39 degrees. Southeast wind 5 to 15 mph

Tonight: cloudy with areas of dense fog and a chance of rain and a low of 35 degrees. South wind 5 to 10 mph.

Wednesday: cloudy with areas of dense fog and a chance of rain in the morning and a high of 46 degrees. Northeast wind 5 to 10 mph.

Thursday: cloudy with a chance of rain and a high of 48 degrees. Northwest wind 5 mph.

Closings/Delays/E-Learning Days for January 23

CHAMPAIGN COUNTY

Champaign County Regional Planning Commission – Opens at 10:00 a.m.

Champaign Unit 4 Schools – Closed

Parkland College – Closed

Rantoul City Schools (PK-8) – Closed

University Laboratory High School in Urbana – E-Learning Day

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign 

  • Instructors are recommended to move in-person classes to a remote-learning format until noon Tuesday if possible. 
  • It’s recommended non-academic activities are canceled or rescheduled until after noon on Tuesday. 
  • This delayed start will allow university and city crews time to clear streets, sidewalks and parking lots of any remaining ice from the overnight accumulation.

Urbana Free Library – Opens at 10:00 a.m.

Urbana Park District facilities will re-open at 8:00 a.m.

Urbana School District 116 – E-Learning Day

U-Cycle curbside routes will be delayed this week due to icy conditions.

  • Monday’s curbside U-Cycle route areas north of Florida Avenue, and including Florida Avenue, Burkwood Court, Evergreen Court and Sunnycrest Court will be collected on Tuesday, January 23.
  • One half of Tuesday’s curbside U-Cycle route will be collected on Tuesday as scheduled, and the other half of Tuesday’s curbside U-Cycle route will be collected on Wednesday, January 24. 
  • One half of Wednesday’s curbside U-Cycle route will be collected on Wednesday as scheduled, and the other half of Wednesday’s curbside U-Cycle route will be collected on Thursday, January 25. 
  • Thursday’s curbside U-Cycle routes will be collected as scheduled on Thursday, January 25.
  • Friday’s curbside U-Cycle routes will be collected as scheduled on Friday, January 26.

DeWITT COUNTY

Blue Ridge CUSD #18 – E-Learning Day

Clinton USD #15 – Closed

PIATT COUNTY

Monticello CUSD #25 – E-Learning Day

VERMILION COUNTY

Bismarck-Henning CUSD #1 – E-Learning Day

Danville School District 118 – E-Learning Day

OSF Sacred Heart in Danville – Community fitness classes will start at 9:00 a.m.

Schlarman Academy – School begins at 9:30 a.m. at the North Campus and the South Campus will begin at 9:40 a.m.

Vermilion County Buildings – Closed

Westville School District 2 – E-Learning Day