Missing Dartmouth student’s body found in Connecticut River

The Lebanon Police Department is looking for public assistance in locating Kexin Cai, 26, from West Lebanon, N.H. She was last seen in the area of Drake Lane in West Lebanon on the afternoon of Wednesday, May 15, 2024. (Courtesy Lebanon Police)

The Lebanon Police Department is looking for public assistance in locating Kexin Cai, 26, from West Lebanon, N.H. She was last seen in the area of Drake Lane in West Lebanon on the afternoon of Wednesday, May 15, 2024. (Courtesy Lebanon Police) —

New Hampshire Fish and Game Conservation Officers, from left, Rob McDermott, Matt Holmes, and Lt. James Kneeland scan the bottom of the Connecticut River during a search for missing Dartmouth College graduate student Kexin Cai above the Wilder Dam in West Lebanon, N.H., on Monday, May 20, 2024. Cai, a graduate student in Dartmouth College’s Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, was last seen on Wednesday, May 15, near her Drake Lane residence in West Lebanon and may have been riding a silver and white e-bike. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

New Hampshire Fish and Game Conservation Officers, from left, Rob McDermott, Matt Holmes, and Lt. James Kneeland scan the bottom of the Connecticut River during a search for missing Dartmouth College graduate student Kexin Cai above the Wilder Dam in West Lebanon, N.H., on Monday, May 20, 2024. Cai, a graduate student in Dartmouth College’s Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, was last seen on Wednesday, May 15, near her Drake Lane residence in West Lebanon and may have been riding a silver and white e-bike. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson

Information about missing West Lebanon resident Kexin Cai, 26, is posted on a kiosk at the entrance to the Boston Lot near Wilder Dam in West Leabnon, N.H., on Monday, May 20, 2024. Cai, a graduate student in Dartmouth College’s Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, was last seen on Wednesday, May 15, near her Drake Lane home and may have been riding a silver and white e-bike. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Information about missing West Lebanon resident Kexin Cai, 26, is posted on a kiosk at the entrance to the Boston Lot near Wilder Dam in West Leabnon, N.H., on Monday, May 20, 2024. Cai, a graduate student in Dartmouth College’s Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, was last seen on Wednesday, May 15, near her Drake Lane home and may have been riding a silver and white e-bike. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson

Lebanon Police Officer Eric Hunter returns to his vehicle after assisting a Dartmouth Hitchcock Advanced Response Team helicopter search from the ground for missing West Lebanon resident Kexin Cai, 26, at the Boston Lot on Monday, May 20, 2024. Fellow members of Cai's graduate program in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Dartmouth College were also searching the conservation area on foot on Monday. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Lebanon Police Officer Eric Hunter returns to his vehicle after assisting a Dartmouth Hitchcock Advanced Response Team helicopter search from the ground for missing West Lebanon resident Kexin Cai, 26, at the Boston Lot on Monday, May 20, 2024. Fellow members of Cai's graduate program in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Dartmouth College were also searching the conservation area on foot on Monday. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson

By JOHN LIPPMAN

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 05-21-2024 8:50 AM

WEST LEBANON — Police retrieved a body they identified as that of a missing Dartmouth College graduate student from the Connecticut River in Windsor on Monday evening.

Authorities found the body of Kexin Cai, 26, of West Lebanon, a graduate student in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, after a fisherman alerted them to a sighting along the river, according to a police news release.

Cai had been last seen near Drake Lane in West Lebanon on Wednesday, May 15, according to police. Initially it was unclear in which direction she traveled on her e-bike, but video footage from local businesses in the area showed she traveled south on Route 10.

Police also got a report on Monday that her bike had been seen on Thursday or Friday at the Boston Lot, according to the news release. As a result of that information, the search focused on the area of the Boston Lot and adjoining Wilder Dam.

The woman’s friends and colleagues also organized a volunteer search effort.

On Monday evening, Jon Kull, dean of the Guarini School of Graduate and Advanced Studies, sent out an email alerting the community to the discovery of Cai’s body. He said that she was a Chinese national who was in her second year in a doctoral program. She had a special interest in communication challenges in autism.

“According to her advisor, Kexin was an exceptionally gifted and humble researcher with a genuinely sweet personality,” Kull wrote. “She loved cats so much she would sneak images of them into every poster or presentation. Kexin loved the Upper Valley. Here, she discovered the joys of hiking, skiing and road trips.”

Kull said a remembrance gathering would be scheduled at a later date.

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On Monday, Lebanon Police Chief Phil Roberts said that the search efforts included ground searches, boats on the Connecticut River near the Wilder Dam and airborne searches by a DHART helicopter that was pressed into service.

Lebanon Police also deployed drones, but as of Monday evening, there still had been no evidence of Cai’s whereabouts, Roberts said. Police do not have any indication that Cai’s disappearance is the result of foul play.

In an interview on Monday evening, her friend and coworker Kristian Droste said that Cai had been experiencing a “mental health crisis” and had sought care earlier last week. She was admitted to Dick’s House, Dartmouth’s on-campus medical facility, where she spent at least one night before being transferred to Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, Droste said.

The last time he saw Cai was when he visited her at Dick’s House on May 13, Droste said.

“It was clear she was still in a crisis and needed time and space to heal,” he said.

Soon thereafter Droste said Cai stopped replying to texts and as well as those from other mutual acquaintances.

Droste said he later learned that Cai, who friends said is from China, had been transferred to DHMC, but when he went to the medical center on Friday to check on her, he was informed that Cai had been discharged “a couple days earlier.”

Droste said Monday that when he later went to Cai’s apartment at Sachem Village in West Lebanon police were already there. He said it appeared police had been notified by Cai’s health care providers, who became worried when Cai was not responding to their messages.

A Slack channel that has been set up to share information and updates about Cai’s disappearance for Dartmouth community members had reached about 100 people, according to Droste.

On Monday, colleagues and friends of Cai’s gathered on campus to organize a search, according to Sixtine Fleury, a graduate student in the Psychology and Brain Science Department who joined the effort.

Fleury said 30 to 40 volunteers divided themselves into four groups with each group entering at one four “access points” into the 436-acre Boston Lot Conservation Area, which is near Cai’s apartment Sachem Village. Fleury’s group met in the parking area across from the Wilder Dam on Route 10.

She said search efforts were being focused on the Boston Lot because the last pings from Cai’s cellphone were last registered within a radius that covers the conservation area but also extended across the Connecticut River to Hartford.

As Fleury spoke, search teams in boats were observed on the river both above and below Wilder Dam, including one of which was equipped with sonar equipment.

If you or someone you know might be at risk for suicide, contact The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24/7 at 988 or 1-800-273-8255. The New Hampshire Rapid Response Access Point, the local mobile crisis response clinician teams for people in sis in the state, can be reached by phone at 833-710-6477 or online at NH988.com. YouthLine can be reached by call ing 877-968-8491 or by texting teen2teen to 839863. A crisis text line can be reached by texting HELLO to 741741.

Contact John Lippman at jlippman@vnews.com.