A student walks a bicycle through the Bowdoin College Quad in Brunswick on Monday. A junior at the private liberal arts college was found dead in a parking lot near the Frank J. Wood Bridge in Topsham on Sunday. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

BRUNSWICK — The Bowdoin College community was grappling Monday with the death of a 20-year-old junior whose body was found in a parking lot off campus a day earlier, leaving many questions and few answers.

Topsham Police found the body of Qingyang Zhan in a parking lot near the Frank J. Wood Bridge on Sunday morning. The bridge connects Brunswick, where the private liberal arts college is located, and Topsham. It is less than a mile from the edge of Bowdoin’s campus.

Topsham Police Chief Marc Hagan said in a written statement that officers responded just after 7 a.m. to a report of a deceased person in the parking lot at 2 Main St., which is being used to store equipment for the construction of a new bridge.

The chief identified the person as a 20-year-old woman from California who is enrolled at Bowdoin. College President Safa Zaki later identified the student as Zhan, who she said was known as K, in a letter to the community on Sunday.

The state medical examiner’s office has conducted an autopsy, and police said they are awaiting the results.

Qingyang Zhan, who was known as K on the Bowdoin campus, recites a poem during an event at the Brunswick college in December 2021. Zhan, a 20-year-old junior, was found dead in a parking lot in Topsham on Sunday. Photo by Andrew Estey 

It is unclear whether police are investigating the case as a suicide, accident, medical event or a homicide. Hagan said in his statement that there is no active threat to the community and the investigation is ongoing.


Topsham police did not respond to messages left Monday seeking information about the case.

Maine State Police are not involved in the investigation, the agency’s spokesperson said. State police are tasked with investigating homicides statewide except in Portland and Bangor, where killings are investigated by the city police departments.

The medical examiner’s office declined to answer questions about the autopsy and manner of death and said standard testing takes six to eight weeks.

Zaki wrote that Zhan was born in Shanghai and had been living in the United States since 2019. She studied in California before arriving at Bowdoin in the fall of 2021 to pursue a double major in government and legal studies and Asian studies.

The parking lot in Topsham where police say they found the body of a Bowdoin College student on Sunday morning. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Zaki said Zhan helped found the Chinese Students Association and was active in the Asian Student Association, and she was also a learning assistant and a musician who played piano and guitar in the Bowdoin Concert Band. Zaki said a campus memorial service would be planned.

“Faculty members describe K as a bright and engaging presence, and many will remember her warmth and kindness,” Zaki said in the letter.


John Morneau, director of the Bowdoin College concert band, of which Zhan was a member, declined via email to be interviewed.


The mood on the Bowdoin College campus Monday afternoon seemed subdued, although many students were sitting on the grass studying, throwing frisbees or playing Spikeball in 50-degree weather.

Most of the dozen or so students who were approached by a reporter either didn’t know Zhan or were not comfortable speaking, but they all said the news was sad for the college community.

Amelia Jacobson of Belfast studies while sitting on a blanket in the Bowdoin College quad on Monday. Jacobsen said she was home visiting family when she received news that a fellow junior, Qingyang Zhan, known as K, had been found dead in Topsham. Jacobson said she didn’t know Zhan, but knows people who did. She said students have been checking in on one another and finding community. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Abby Flanagan, a junior from Monmouth, said she didn’t know Zhan but saw her recently. “She participated in one of my classes. It was just a discussion, but even from that you could tell she was an amazing human,” Flanagan said.  “She actually was supposed to come back to the class (Monday night).”

Several students said faculty members brought up the death in classes Monday and encouraged students to reach out for support.


“The (campus) mood is pretty sad,” said first-year Grace Campbell. “I feel really bad for her family.”

Amelia Jacobson also didn’t know Zhan but said several of her friends did. Jacobson had gone home to the Belfast area for the holiday this past weekend and found out about the news through email.

“It’s been heavy,” she said. “Everybody has been checking in with each other, searching for a bit of community.”


The on-campus counseling service at the school of 1,900 students is staying open until 7 p.m., two hours later than usual, for the remainder of the week to offer support.

Professors also have allowed for lax attendance this week, encouraging students to take the time they need to process.


“Teachers have been really understanding about deadlines,” first-year Oliver Brandes said.

Senior Liliana Lines said that campus reaction to this particular incident differs from the death of another student, Theo Danzig, that occurred two years ago.

According to Lines, Danzig’s passing “elicited a stronger response” within the academic community because they knew quickly that he had died by suicide.


Student deaths, especially so close to the campus, are rare.

The Bowdoin Chapel looms over the quad on Monday. There have been few answers about the death of a Bowdoin College junior whose body was found in a parking lot in Topsham over the weekend. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Between at least 2010 and 2019, no students died while enrolled at the school, according to past issues of the Bowdoin alumni magazine, which tracks Bowdoin-related deaths.


But at least five other students have died since 2019, most from accidents.

Henry Zietlow, a first-year student from Minnesota, was killed in a car crash in Wisconsin in 2019.

Danzig, a 21-year-old senior from New York City, died by suicide at his off-campus apartment in November 2021, and just a few weeks later, Finnegan Woodruff, a 22-year-old Brunswick native, drowned in a kayaking accident in Washington state.

Omar Osman, a Lewiston High School graduate and first-year Bowdoin student, died in December 2022 from a severe allergic reaction. A few weeks later, Charlotte Billingsley, 20, of Rye, New York, died in a car crash in the Dominican Republic.

Bowdoin College officials declined to answer additional questions about Zhan’s death or memorial service, and declined to speak about the recent student deaths. A spokesperson directed reporters to Zaki’s letter to the community.

Times Record Staff Writer Kristian Moravec contributed to this report.

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