The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

Cecilia Chang Found Dead in Apparent Suicide


Cecilia Chang, the former dean of the Asian Studies Center on trial for allegedly embezzling $1.1 million from the University and forcing international students to work as personal servants, died in an apparent suicide in the early hours of Nov. 6. She was 59.

An NYPD spokesperson confirmed only that a person was found dead at Chang’s residence and referred calls to the Medical Examiner’s Office; a call there was not returned. According to a person familiar with the investigation, Chang attempted multiple methods of suicide that morning.

Chang appeared to leave a note at the scene, according to a source, but it was written in Chinese and officers at the scene could not immediately translate it.

There was a strong smell of gas around the neighborhood early Tuesday morning and fire trucks surrounded the block at about 7:30 a.m., according to Chang’s neighbors, who wished not to be identified. ConEd trucks also responded to the scene.

The neighbors said personnel from FDNY had trouble getting into the home, saying someone or something inside the house appeared to be blocking the entrance.

Calls to the FDNY were not returned by the time the Torch went to print.

An official with the medical examiner’s office was seen leaving the house at about 11:15 a.m. allowing ConEd workers to go inside the house.

Chang’s neighbors said they did not notice anything unusual during Chang’s last days, adding that for the most part she, “kept to herself” during the 30 years she lived there.

Her death comes a day after Chang took the stand at her trial, and her testimony was at times incoherent and rambling, according to the New York Daily News.

At one point Chang reportedly yelled at U.S. District Judge Sterling Johnson, to which the judge responded, “Don’t be yelling at me or you’re going to be sorry.”

The trial was set to resume Nov. 6. But instead, Johnson reportedly told those present in the court, where Chang was supposed to continue her trial that Chang was “no longer with us.” He later called it a “Shakespearean tragedy,” and suggested that her apparent suicide was the reason she took the stand on Monday.

“Sayonara. Get it off her chest,” the judge said, according to reports. “We never know how an individual handles the pressure.”

Calls to the federal prosecutors in Chang’s trial were not returned.

Stephen Mahler, Chang’s defense attorney, told the Torch that Chang’s death was a “terrible tragedy.”

“She loved St. John’s more than anything else,” he said. “In the end St. John’s wasn’t very kind to her.”

Associate vice president for external relations Dominic Scianna said in a statement from the University, “St. John’s University was saddened to learn this morning of the death of Cecilia Chang. We ask the entire St. John’s University community to pray for her and her family.”

Chang faced 20 years in federal prison if convicted of the charges.

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Anthony O'Reilly, News Editor
Anthony has been one of the most, if not the most, loyal person at this paper. His passion and his dedication to reporting and production is unparalleled. In the last few weeks, he has demonstrated the qualities of a leader and a coach that are required for this position. I have nothing but confidence that Anthony will do a great job. He will serve you, the reader, by providing the most honest, objective news possible. —Terence Cullen News Editor, Emeritus

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    Ryan MecaNov 7, 2012 at 3:50 am

    I’m confused as to what her attorney meant when he said “She loved St. John’s more than anything else… In the end St. John’s wasn’t very kind to her.” It’s always sad to hear about a situation like this, but I don’t think her past actions showed any type of “love” or even respect for St. John’s or its students whatsoever.