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

The death of a Bowdoin College student whose body was discovered Sunday morning in a parking area in Topsham has been ruled a suicide.

Qingyang Zhan, 20, of Lafayette, California, who went by the name K, was a junior pursuing a double major in government and legal studies and Asian studies.

Topsham police Chief Marc Hagan said in a statement Tuesday that “all investigative facts and circumstances have led this agency to conclude that Qingyang took her own life on the morning of 3/31/24.”

Hagan said the state medical examiner’s office is still conducting a toxicology report, which could take up to eight weeks, but “barring any non-corroborating information … this investigation is considered closed.”

Police discovered Zhan’s body in a parking lot near the Frank J. Wood Bridge, which connects Brunswick and Topsham and is about a mile from the college campus.

Although police did not identify Zhan at the time, Bowdoin president Safa Zaki sent a letter late Sunday to students and the community mourning her loss.


Zaki shared another letter on Tuesday.

“The past two days have been tremendously difficult and heartbreaking for members of our community as we have been thinking about K Zhan, wondering about the cause and circumstances of K’s death, and worrying about the impact of this devastating news on K’s family, friends, and loved ones, ” she wrote. “With permission from K’s parents, we are sharing that Topsham police now believe K died by suicide.

“This information does nothing to ease the pain and sorrow that so many feel today and will continue to experience in the days and weeks ahead. But we can and should continue to support one another and to take advantage of the resources available to us.”

Zhan was born in Shanghai and had been living in the United States since 2019. Prior to attending Bowdoin, Zhan was a student at the Athenian School in Danville, California.

“We are deeply saddened by the loss of this beautiful young person and member of our Athenian community,” Athenian’s head of school Eric Niles said in an email. “On hearing the news, K’s Athenian teachers reflected on her maturity and gentle spirit. She had a sharp intellect and was a natural leader and a gifted musician. As a boarding student for much of her time at Athenian, the residential community was like a second family to her.

“For those who knew K, she loved her family fiercely. She had a deep impact on all of the communities she was part of during her short life. We are heartbroken and have her family in our thoughts.”


During her time at Bowdoin, Zhan helped found the Chinese Students Association, was active in the Asian Student Association, and was a musician who played piano and guitar in the Bowdoin Concert Band. She also was a learning assistant with the college’s Baldwin Center for Learning and Teaching.

Bowdoin students who spoke about Zhan’s death on Monday – before it was ruled a suicide – said the news was heartbreaking and a lot of faculty members were encouraging students to seek out community as they processed the loss of a classmate. The on-campus counseling service at the private school of 1,900 students planned to stay open until 7 p.m., two hours later than usual, for the remainder of the week to offer support.

Bowdoin spokesman Scott Hood said the college has been building up its mental health services for several years. It now offers 24/7 telehealth services for students and there are no wait times for students who walk in.

Zhan’s death is the second suicide of a Bowdoin student in the last four years. Theo Danzig, a 21-year-old from New York City, was found dead in an off-campus apartment in October 2021.

Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among college students, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, behind accidental injury, which includes motor vehicle accidents.

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