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May Zhou ...04 Dead, Found in Car Trunk

Police Think Suicide May Be Cause of Death

By Nick Semenkovich

Mengyao “May” Zhou ’04 was found dead in the trunk of her car last Thursday, Jan. 25, from an apparent suicide. The City of Santa Rosa Police Department is waiting on toxicology and other test results before declaring an official cause of death.

Zhou, an electrical engineering graduate student at Stanford University, was reported missing to the Stanford Police on Jan. 21. She was last seen on the evening of Jan. 20 leaving her residence to run errands. At approximately 3:30 a.m. on Jan. 25, an officer from the Santa Rosa Junior College Police Department located her 2006 Toyota in one of the student lots, according to a Santa Rosa Police press release. A deceased woman, later identified as Zhou, was found in the trunk.

There are “no early indications of foul play” and “items in the trunk indicate the subject may have committed suicide,” according to the Santa Rosa Police press release.

The Sonoma County Coroner’s Office completed an autopsy Friday, Jan. 26 which was inconclusive. According to another Santa Rosa Police press release, there were “no outward signs of trauma to the body.” Toxicology studies will take several weeks to perform.

Wechung M. Wang ’04, a Stanford classmate of Zhou’s, said that she was shocked at the news. “She seemed happy, healthy, and having a normal day,” describing the Thursday before she went missing.

The Santa Rosa Police were not available for comment and did not respond to repeated phone messages.

Yitong Zhou, May Zhou’s father, said to The Santa Rosa Press Democrat that the police had not released details of the crime scene and case to him. “I asked, they don’t want to tell me,” Yitong Zhou said to The Democrat. “They don’t want to tell me details because they haven’t released anything to the outside, they still want to study.”

“We’re making progress toward trying to have a better understanding of what occurred,” Santa Rosa Police Sgt. Paul Henry also said to The Democrat. “It’s a suspicious death … if we find evidence of foul play in the future, the suspect will be the only one who knows what’s in there.”

Zhou’s father is convinced that his daughter did not commit suicide. “I don’t believe it, because I’m a parent,” Zhou said to the The San Jose Mercury News. “I know her. I don’t think this is what she would do.” Her family suspects an abduction because Zhou did not like to drive long distances. Santa Rosa Junior College, where Zhou’s car was found, is some 90 miles away from Stanford.

In an interview with The Tech, Yitong Zhou said detectives had spoken with May Zhou’s younger sister about academic pressures, asking her questions about how their father would have reacted if May Zhou received an A-minus in a class. “They asked all these strange questions,” he said to The San Jose Mercury News. “My daughter was a straight-A student … I think they’re going the wrong direction. They’re looking for clues to support their hypothesis.”

Zhou graduated from MIT in 2004 with a degree in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and obtained an MEng in EECS a year later.