Parents want answers after their new son was found dead 500 feet from where he disappeared.

A few days after Ish and Ritu Dhawan sent their 18-year-old son Akul to college last month, they received a worrying phone call. Akol’s friend did not know where he was; He had been missing since going to a party the night before.

The Bay Area-based family contacted campus police at his school, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, expecting to get more details, they said. They were transferred to the district investigating judge.

“He told me he was dead. I couldn’t believe it,” Ish Dhawan told NBC News, crying. “No one bothered to tell us.”

Akol, a freshman engineering student, died in subzero temperatures about 500 feet from his last known location, and his parents say what they’ve heard from authorities since has raised more questions than answers. Dhawan’s family asserts that the police were negligent in their search for Akol and in their communications with the family.

With their son gone, they say they want answers.

Akul Dhawan.  (Courtesy of Ish Dhawan)Akul Dhawan.  (Courtesy of Ish Dhawan)

Akul Dhawan. (Courtesy of Ish Dhawan)

“I think this is just a bad dream, and I think it will come back,” Esch said. “It is unthinkable for a child to die in this day and age on a college campus.”

according to press release From the University Police Department, Akol’s friend reported him missing at 1:23 a.m. on January 20 after he left a classmate’s residence and was unable to reach him by phone. An officer searched the area Leadership “Walking” on several roads and sidewalks between his last known location and his residence hall, asking passersby if they saw anyone. The officer also contacted local hospitals and verified whether Akol’s student ID card had been used in any buildings on campus, the statement said. None of the officers’ actions yielded results.

Police said Akol’s body was found 10 hours later on the concrete back stairs of the university building, not by police, but by a university employee. The Champaign County coroner said in his report launch The final cause of death is pending toxicology results, but Akol’s body showed signs of hypothermia.

“If someone is reported missing, go and look,” Ish Dhawan said. “You’re packing people in. When the temperature is below Fahrenheit, every minute is precious.

Ish and Ritu said they met with several university officials as well as a campus police informant. They said none of them provided adequate answers, and no one has reached out to them with updates since then.

University of Illinois Police and campus police did not respond to specific questions from NBC News, including about whether there was a foot search and why they did not contact the family.

“The safety of all of our students and community members is the highest priority,” a police spokesperson told NBC News, saying the department is “heartbroken” for the family.

The parents said state police should have been involved, but Illinois State Police told NBC News they responded and provided support services at the request of University of Illinois Police. They directed follow-ups to the university police, who did not respond to additional questions.

“Full of energy, dreams and ambitions”

Akol died a few days after returning to school from winter break, and his parents say they are holding on to their last memories of him. A natural engineer since childhood, he has been a lifelong Lego fan. When he returned home for the holidays, he built a 5,000-piece Marvel Lego tower in one night.

“We still have that. We’ll always have that,” his father said. “It was his last project.”

Childhood photo of Akul Dhawan smiling while holding a puppy.  (Courtesy of Ish Dhawan)Childhood photo of Akul Dhawan smiling while holding a puppy.  (Courtesy of Ish Dhawan)

Childhood photo of Akul Dhawan smiling while holding a puppy. (Courtesy of Ish Dhawan)

They remember their son as someone who was enthusiastic about life from the beginning. After spending most of his high school years learning remotely during the COVID crisis, he was happy with his new college life and friends when he started school in the fall, they said. In January, he couldn’t wait to return.

“I was talking to him on FaceTim while he was filling out his registration for the class, just a few days ago,” Ritu said. “He was so excited.”

Having lived most of his life in the Bay Area, Akol wasn’t used to the cold, his parents said, so, while he was home, they shopped for all the winter clothes he might need. On the night of his death, the temperature was -1°F; Ish Dhawan said he later learned that Akol had left his jacket at a friend’s residence because the party was across the street and there was no coat check.

“He just turned 18 in September,” Esch said. “He was a very young, very naive 18-year-old.”

Two weeks later, Dhawan’s family waits for Akol’s belongings, most of them brand new for the semester, to return in boxes. They are still confused by the details of that night, and are demanding an independent investigation into what happened.

“I don’t believe anything the police say,” Esch said.

When they look back on the years they spent with Akol, they say they will never stop missing him.

“He was just a happy-go-lucky kid,” Esch said. “A typical child with all the desires and ambitions.”

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