Student missing 8 days is found dead in
Illinois Institute of Technology fraternity house
Benjamin Collen died of asphyxia due to inhalation of carbon dioxide
By Emily S. Achenbaum and Mary Owen, Tribune reporters
An Illinois Institute of Technology student missing for eight days was found dead inside a storage room in his fraternity house on campus, but it was unclear Sunday how the 19-year-old's body went unnoticed for so long.
Benjamin Collen, a sophomore biomedical engineering major from Lincolnwood, died of asphyxia due to inhalation of carbon dioxide from a canister, the Cook County medical examiner's office said Sunday. His death was ruled an accident.
A fraternity brother found Collen in the Alpha Sigma Phi house in the 3300 block of South Wabash Avenue on the South Side. Police, fraternity and university officials would not comment on whether the house had been searched since Collen was reported missing Nov. 14.
His parents had made televised appeals for his return or for anyone with information about him to come forward. Family members declined to comment Sunday.
Jeff Bierig, a spokesman for IIT, said the university posted signs on campus and e-mailed all students about Collen's disappearance.
Chicago police said Sunday they are not investigating since no wrongdoing is evident. They declined to comment further except to say that officers responded about 6 p.m. Saturday. A fraternity spokesman said a member called 911.
Collen had belonged to the fraternity since his freshman year and had lived in the fraternity house. More recently, he had been living at IIT's McCormick Student Village, a few blocks away.
Joseph Booker, 20, and a junior at DePaul University, said Collen was a friend and told him a few weeks ago that he had gotten kicked out of the fraternity house.
Owen McCulloch, president of the national Alpha Sigma Phi Fraternity, said he was unsure why Collen no longer lived in the house. He said he also did not know whether the IIT chapter was in good-standing because the national organization's registrar was unavailable Sunday.
About 25 members live in the unassuming brick fraternity house that is the last on a street of Greek houses. A campus security guard ordered a Tribune reporter attempting to speak to fraternity members off the campus.
Booker, who graduated from Niles West High School in 2007 with Collen, said he was not aware that his friend was inhaling carbon dioxide. He said Collen was a bright student who played on the chess team and won science awards in high school. He said he was an occasional prankster who enjoyed a good debate.
"We thought he was going to do something epic with his life," Booker said.
At IIT, Collen was an ROTC cadet, as were many of his fraternity brothers.
Inhaling carbon dioxide to get high is a less common form of "huffing," which involves household chemicals such as glue, paint, aerosol and fuel.
On Sunday, the "Benjamin Collen is missing" Facebook page had almost 3,500 members who had messages after news of his death was posted.
Some comments: "wow this is unbelievable. if it werent for ben, i wouldnt have passed math in high school," and "Rest in Peace Ben! You will always be with us in that courtyard smoking and laughing and being so you."
Tribune reporter Dan P. Blake contributed to this report.