Former engineering student Tejraj Antooa died on Jan. 24, Engineering Student Council President Tim Qin, SEAS ’13, announced in an email Monday. The death was a suicide, friends said.
Antooa, who was from Elmont, N.Y., on Long Island, was pursuing a major in computer science and involved with the Hindu Students Organization and the Columbia International Relations Council. He was 21.
Friends said they will remember Antooa, who entered the School of Engineering and Applied Science as a member of the class of 2013, as a happy, giving person who went out of his way to help others and enjoyed spontaneously exploring the city.
“He was just always there, you know,” said Siddhi Mittal, SEAS ’13 and a member of the suite in which Antooa had planned to live before taking time off from Columbia. “He hung out with people all the time, had different groups all the time.”
During his first year at Columbia, Antooa joined the HSO, where he met some of his closest friends in college.
“We became very close—he was one of us,” Kapil Wattamwar, SEAS ’13 and a member of HSO, said. “Mostly when I think of him, before I think of HSO, I primarily think of him as a brother and as a friend.”
In addition to his involvement in HSO, Antooa was a member of CIRCA’s traveling team.
Antooa took a leave of absence from Columbia after the spring 2012 semester and did not return.
Both friends noted Antooa’s intelligence—some of their favorite memories of him featured the electronic devices he would build. One, which he called the “TV B-Gone,” worked like a universal remote that could turn off any television.
“One day we took the elevator down in Broadway and shut off every TV in the building,” Wattamwar said. “It was in the middle of a big football game, and everyone trying to watch was baffled,” Wattamwar and Johri recalled, laughing.
While Antooa’s friends miss his presence greatly, they say they will remember him as an important member of their close-knit group.
“I think if anything, all of us have just gotten closer because we kind of went through all this together,” Mittal said. “I guess he will always be remembered as one of us. We’ll know he’s always one of us and he’ll be remembered anytime anything good happens.”
Normally after the death of a Columbia College or SEAS student, Dean of Student Affairs Kevin Shollenberger sends an email notifying the student body of the death. But administrators chose not to announce Antooa’s death because he was not enrolled as a student at the time of his death, student affairs spokesperson Katherine Cutler said in an email.
“We did recognize that he was still connected to the community, so we did reach out to the student groups and peers we know were close to him to offer support,” Cutler said.
After hearing about their friend’s death, Wattamwar and another friend, Ansh Johri, SEAS ’13, asked administrators if they could make an exception for Antooa, “given the magnitude of his involvement in organizations, and as part of the campus community, the number of friends he has here, everything,” Wattamwar said.
Dean of Community Development and Multicultural Affairs Terry Martinez did not announce the death, citing a “general practice,” Wattamwar said, even after family members and friends asked that the student body be notified.
“He didn’t even graduate, he’s not an alumni—he’s still part of our community in every way possible,” Wattamwar said. “But even given that, the administration still wasn’t ready to make an exception for this.”
Martinez suggested that Antooa’s friends reach out to the class council presidents and ask them to make announcements, and Qin included a blurb on Antooa’s death, written by Wattamwar and Johri, in his newsletter on Monday.
Antooa’s close friends have come together to remember him over the last month.
“The entire experience after his death of going back to his home and meeting his family and his friends really put things into perspective,” Wattamwar said. “It was only then that I realized how much of a hometown hero he was.”
Antooa’s wake in his hometown on Long Island was packed beyond capacity, Wattamwar and Johri said.
“After we went to his house we were like, ‘This guy is so loved by so many different people.’ It was crazy,” Johri said. “There were hundreds of people at his wake, and it wasn’t just random people, you could see tears in every one of their eyes—everyone had a strong connection with Tejraj.”
An earlier version of this story stated that Antooa was 22 when he died. He was actually 21—his birthday would have been next week. Spectator regrets the error.