Body of Dartmouth student pulled from Connecticut River

Middletown High School valedictorian Won Jang parades through the district's elementary schools with his Middletown, Del., graduating class in 2022. (Middletown High School photograph)

Middletown High School valedictorian Won Jang parades through the district's elementary schools with his Middletown, Del., graduating class in 2022. (Middletown High School photograph)

By JOHN LIPPMAN

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 07-08-2024 1:12 PM

Modified: 07-09-2024 2:40 PM


HANOVER — The body of a 20-year-old Dartmouth College student was recovered from the Connecticut River on Sunday and the circumstances surrounding the presumed drowning are being investigated, according to police.

Won Jang, a member of the class of 2026 from Middletown, Del., was reported missing by friends on Sunday after he failed to appear for an engagement earlier that day, New Hampshire Fish and Game said in a news release.

Jang was last seen about 9:30 p.m. Saturday evening while attending a social gathering at the docks near the Ledyard Bridge on the Connecticut River, Fish and Game said.

Saturday evening was marked by intermittent and intense rain downpours around the Upper Valley.

It wasn’t until 3:15 p.m. on Sunday that Hanover police received a report that Jang was missing. They responded to the scene along with the fire department’s dive team and Lebanon and Hartford fire departments. Fish and Game and the State Police Marine Patrol also assisted.

Utilizing underwater cameras, the recovery team located Jang’s body at 7:25 p.m. submerged about 65 feet from the riverbank, according to officials.

As of Monday, the cause of Jang’s death remained officially undetermined and awaits findings from the state Medical Examiner’s Office.

Hanover police said a preliminary investigation indicates no foul play is suspected.

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

Former Listen director faces sentencing for embezzlement
Police investigating shooting of man found in Grafton
Claremont man transported to hospital for mental health evaluation after city hall lockdown
New Hampshire has no locally owned casinos in operation, state eyes new regulations
Bike lanes change traffic patterns on Route 5 in Hartford
Route 14 railroad underpass reopens in Royalton

However, Hanover Police Chief Charlie Dennis said that police are investigating whether Jang’s death may be linked to fraternity “hazing,” based upon tips received by police.

“The autopsy will give us a lot more information about” the manner and cause of death, Dennis told the Valley News on Monday.

He said that police received “multiple” emails that allege “hazing or something like that may be involved.”

“We’re encouraging anyone with any information to reach out to us to, to help us soon as we work through this investigation,” Dennis said.

According to the college’s website, “Dartmouth’s definition of hazing ... includes the following activities if they occur as part of initiation or admission into an organization, group or team, or are required for continued membership in an organization, group or team:

■The consumption of alcohol, drugs, or other substances;

■Removing, damaging or destroying property;

■Behavior that disrupts College or community activities;

■Violating any Standard of Conduct or College policy.”

“We’re looking whether this was an official event or not ... (he) was there with some of his brothers of his fraternity,” Dennis said on Monday. “But we’re still unsure at this point if it was a sanctioned, official event or not.”

Jang, a biomedical engineering major who had been class valedictorian at his high school in Delaware, was a member of the Beta Alpha Omega fraternity, according to a notice about Jang’s death to the Dartmouth community from Dean of the College Scott Brown.

“Won wholeheartedly embraced opportunities at Dartmouth to pursue his academic and personal passions. He served as a project manager at the DALI Lab, was a research assistant at Thayer, and participated in the TuckLAB entrepreneurship program,” Brown wrote. “He supported his peers and found fast friendships as an international student mentor for the Office of Pluralism and Leadership ... (and) enthusiastically took part in the Dartmouth community, from starting his own band to playing club squash.”

The Valley News also received an anonymous email on Monday alleging what the sender described as the circumstances that preceded Jang’s death.

Dennis said the email to the Valley News was similar in content to the reports received by police.

A Dartmouth spokeswoman, when informed that police are investigating possible hazing related to the incident, did not address the allegation but said “the entire Dartmouth community mourns the tragic loss this weekend of one of our students.”

“We are supporting the student’s family, friends and loved ones in every way possible, providing extensive grief counseling and working closely with local authorities to help their investigation into the circumstances,” the spokeswoman said via email.

An email to the Beta Alpha Omega fraternity was not immediately returned on Monday afternoon.

Although normally seen as bucolic and calm, there have been numerous instances over the years of both Dartmouth students and visitors to Hanover losing their lives in the Connecticut River.

Jang’s death Saturday is the second death in as many months and the third in two years involving a Dartmouth student in the Connecticut River.

In May, the body of a 26-year-old female graduate student from China who was reported to be suffering from a mental health crisis was found in the river near Windsor after she was reported missing by friends. The manner and cause of the student’s death has not been released, although police said they found no reason to suspect foul play.

In 2022, a 24-year-old Dartmouth graduate who was attending his pandemic-delayed college graduation ceremony died after his severely injured body was recovered from the rocky embankment under Ledyard Bridge.

The circumstances that led the alumnus to fall on the rocks was never explained other than described by a friend at the time as a “freak accident.”

A 21-year-old AmeriCorps volunteer from Alaska doing work in New Hampshire drowned when he went for a swim in the river near Cornish in 2016.

And in 2013, the brother of a Dartmouth student from Ghana drowned in the river when he jumped from a rope swing on the Norwich side. Alcohol was determined not to have been a factor in the victim’s drowning and the cause was ascribed to an inability to swim.

Other Connecticut River fatalities that have occurred over the years include a 20-year-old Dartmouth student who died in 1991 in an accidental drowning in which alcohol was ruled a contributing factor.

Contact John Lippman at jlippman@vnews.com.