Since Victoria Cheng’s sudden passing on Saturday, the Ithaca College community has joined in remembrance of the freshman.
Cheng, a biology major, was from Spencer, N.Y., and was a 2010 graduate of Ithaca High School. Her father, Joseph Cheng, is an associate professor of finance and international business at the college, and her brother, Joshua Cheng, is a sophomore physics-engineering major in the School of Humanities and Sciences. Her mother, Sarah Cheng, is a graduate of the college.
Hundreds of students, local residents, faculty and staff packed inside Muller Chapel on Sunday to remember Cheng, while others stood in an outside room to hear friends tearfully recall their many favorite moments with the freshman.
Friends offered their favorite memories with Cheng, with some overcoming tears to recall her smile, intellect, sense of humor and personality.
Freshman Hillary Palmer said she first met Cheng four years ago, and the two quickly became best friends at Ithaca High School.
“She was so easy to get along with,” Palmer said. “[She was] such a beautiful person inside and out. She made everything we did fun. It did not matter to me where we were or what we were doing. She was just perfect in my eyes.”
Deputies responded to an unresponsive female report on Pennsylvania Avenue at about 12:40 p.m. Saturday, according to the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Department. The Ithaca City Fire Department and Bangs Ambulance soon followed to assist. Cheng, 17, was pronounced dead at the scene.
Residents of 380 Pennsylvania Ave. said they first noticed a body lying in the snow on the side of the house when they looked through an apartment window. Residents went outside to check on her, where they said she was fully clothed and showed no real signs of prior struggle. Residents said they could see footprints in the snow, marking where she presumably crawled before falling, and the residents subsequently called 911.
“You never expect to see that in your yard,” one resident from the house said. “[It’s] the last thing you ever want to see.”
Several local residents on the street said police blocked off the eastern side of Pennsylvania Avenue. No vehicles could enter the eastern side of the street, and if a resident wanted to leave, they were told they could not return until the on-site investigation was completed, several local residents said.
“I just wanted to do everything I could to help them out,” the resident said. “Obviously, we were all just as surprised as anyone to find her there, and we wanted them to be able to figure it out quickly.”
Later Saturday afternoon, the residents of 380 Pennsylvania Ave. placed a wooden cross in the ground where they first found Cheng in her honor.
According to the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Department, there was no sign of foul play.
Jody Coombs, senior investigator at the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Department, said investigators are still following leads to determine where Cheng was walking from and where she was headed before falling. The department is investigating the cause of death, along with New York State Police, the Ithaca Police Department and the Ithaca College Office of Public Safety.
“We’ll continue the investigation until we have satisfied our goals in making any possible determination to assist us in the cause of death,” Coombs said. “We’ll continue to do that until the leads we have identified have been resolved.”
Coombs said alcohol was believed to be a contributing factor in Cheng’s death, though investigators are not yet completely sure it played a role. Coombs said an autopsy was completed Monday at Lourdes Hospital in Binghamton, N.Y., but there is no timetable for the release of results.
On Friday, Cornell University sophomore George Desdunes was found nonresponsive in his fraternity house, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, at about 7 a.m., according to the Ithaca Police Department. Desdunes was transported to Cayuga Medical Center, where he later died. Coombs said the two deaths are unrelated and both appear to be accidental.
Joseph Cheng said his daughter always possessed a strong faith in Jesus Christ, and though the family will certainly miss her, they at least know she’s with the Lord.
“We dedicated Victoria to the Lord at the age of one, and thus God can use Victoria for whatever purpose He desires,” he said. “If God uses her as a precious example to deter others from making poor choices and to help save the lives of many young people, we have to accept that. But how much we wish that we can still have our Victoria.”
Pastor Paul Epp of the First Ithaca Chinese Christian Church, Cheng’s family church, said he had the opportunity to get to know Cheng once he moved to the area two and a half years ago. Epp described her as friendly, polite and outgoing.
Joseph Cheng said his family has been deeply moved by the amount of support they’ve received from students, faculty and staff since Cheng’s death.
“These supports have helped sustain my family during this most difficult time,” he said. “I am truly blessed to have a big family like this at Ithaca College.”
A memorial service in Cheng’s honor will be held at 3:30 p.m. Sunday in Muller Chapel. In addition, Bethel Grove Bible Church in Ithaca will host a celebration of Cheng’s life at 3:30 p.m. Saturday.