January 31, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 27°F


Senior Cornell University student murdered on Thanksgiving

The evening of Thanksgiving took a tragic turn for Shannon Jones, a senior at Cornell University who was killed in a Cayuga Heights apartment.

Benjamin Cayea, 32, was arrested on Nov. 28 and charged with second-degree murder for the death of Jones on Nov. 27 in his apartment on Triphammer Road, according to a press release from the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office. He was remanded to the Tompkins County Jail without bail and appeared in the Village of Cayuga Heights court on Dec. 2.

At his court appearance, Cayea waived his right to the initial hearing and was sent back to jail without bail. He will reappear in front of a grand jury on Dec. 18 at the Tompkins County Court.

After strangling her to death, he drove Jones’ car to the apartment of childhood friend Jacob Ives on Elmira Road, according to Ives’ statement to Tompkins County Investigator John Federation. When Cayea arrived at the apartment, he confessed to Ives that he had killed Jones, who he had been dating on and off for the past two years, Ives said.

“He told me that he had lost control,” he said in his statement.

In his statement, Ives said he had never known Cayea to be violent.

“Because of his religion, I thought him incapable of violence,” he said. “He is a Buddhist.”

Jones, at 23 years old, was a senior independent major in engineering at Cornell whose primary studies were in space controls engineering in the field of aerospace, Lance Collins, dean of the college of engineering, said.

Dawn McWilliams, director of communications in engineering, said most students and faculty are still in a state of shock over the news. He said the community support meeting held Dec. 1 in the Upson Hall lounge was very busy with members of the campus community.

In a letter to the engineering students, Collins also said Jones was interested in theater and was part of the Teszia Belly Dance Troupe at Cornell.

Her interests in aerospace studies led her to participate in the Violet student satellite project team under Mason Peck, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering.

Peck said Jones joined the team a few years ago while Peck was on leave from NASA, and when he returned to Cornell as a full-time associate professor, he discussed the project with her in detail and how her contributions furthered the project. For example, she recently helped test the satellite’s star tracker, which uses images of stars to determine the spacecraft’s orientation in space.

“She helped figure out how to make Violet’s star tracker work, and when Violet launches next year and takes its first images of the stars, we’ll have Shannon to thank for it,” he said.

Jones’ role in the project was designing how the satellite moves with the Attitude Control System team using principles of mathematics and physics. Peck said her creative thinking helped the team in its goal to cross new frontiers in aerospace engineering.

“Her enthusiasm for space also would have helped her become successful as a NASA engineer someday,” he said.

Kayla Dwyer can be reached at kdwyer1@ithaca.edu or via Twitter: @kayla_dwyer17