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University Sophomore Found Dead in Dorm; Students in Mourning

Matthew Hersh

A Princeton University sophomore was found dead in her dorm room on Sunday afternoon as students and faculty began to prepare for the start of classes.

The student, 19-year-old Melissa M. Huang, of Mechanicsburg, Pa., was discovered at 1:28 p.m. by her parents and a University custodian in her Wilson College dormitory. Her parents had previously made plans to meet with their daughter in her dorm room.

While University Police and Princeton Borough Police have ruled out any evidence of foul play, an autopsy conducted Monday by the Mercer County Medical Examiner's Office came back "inconclusive," according to a statement released by the University.

"The cause right now still remains unknown," said Patricia Allen, a university spokesperson.

She added that officials in the University's Office of Public Safety have indicated that it could take up to several weeks before the medical examiner's office determines a cause of death.

On campus, University psychologists are providing students with continuous updates, and are offering round-the-clock counseling and guidance. The Wilson College staff is also offering support and "keeping the lines of communication open" with students who were part of Ms. Huang's college community and circle of peers, Ms. Allen said. University President Shirley Tilghman and deans in the office of undergraduate students have been in constant contact with Ms. Huang's parents, Leon Keng-Lock Huang and Sauling Huang.

Students will receive counseling "if they need it and when they need it," Ms. Allen said.

Dr. Daniel Silverman, the University's chief medical officer and a psychiatrist, said counseling groups were assembled immediately following news of Ms. Huang's death.

"It was a team response at Wilson College," Dr. Silverman said. Freshmen were broken up into groups with their residence advisors; sophomores held meetings with counselors from the University's Counseling and Psychological Services unit both in large groups and in individual sessions. "We deployed quite a bit of our staff," Dr. Silverman explained.

His staff also reached out to the deans of other residence colleges across campus, who, while not having as much of an immediate tie to Ms. Huang, might still feel the effects of her death.

Ms. Huang's closest friends are also being counseled, Dr. Silverman said, adding that the University will "continue to service all of the components of the Wilson College family."

Several of those close to Ms. Huang have taken part in private counseling sessions.

"Those individuals were our primary focus as we began the [counseling] process. We're staying in close contact with them."

While he said that seeking help in dealing with a tragedy is not mandatory, Dr. Silverman said that most students have been "very receptive and open to our offers to talk."

He added that his staff would keep an eye on "delayed responses" to Ms. Huang's death, indicating that the tragedy could offset emotions experienced from a personal loss earlier in life.

"Some people, after experiencing the initial shock of a loss like this, might start to feel a great deal more, and it could come up in the next days or even weeks," he said. The counseling staff has liaisons with each residential college and will continue to follow up with students and other members of the University community.

A member of Princeton's Class of 2007, Ms. Huang was a student in the University's's School of Engineering and Applied Science. Throughout the summer, she worked on a chemical engineering research project with Professor Jeffrey Carbeck, director of the Program in Engineering, and Professor Ilhan Aksay, head of the Ceramic Materials Laboratory.

In addition to her parents, Ms. Huang is survived by a brother, Kevin, and a sister, Alina, all of Mechanicsburg, Pa.

Students and other acquaintances who wish to receive counseling or guidance can call the University's Counseling and Psychological Services, 24 hours a day, at (609) 258-3285.

A memorial service will be held at a later date on campus. Funeral arrangements are pending.

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