Purdue employee accused in Hilltop sexual assault case; neighbors react

Booking photo shows Cheng Li. (Photo Provided/Tippecanoe County Jail)
Booking photo shows Cheng Li. (Photo Provided/Tippecanoe County Jail)

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI) — A Purdue employee is behind bars Wednesday for an alleged sexual assault on campus.

Purdue police said the victim originally met Cheng Li online and then got together in person outside her Hilltop apartment around 8 p.m. Tuesday. She said she invited him inside and he forced himself on her.

The victim said she managed to get away. But her story is sticking with those who live nearby.

“Just the fact that she, like, is a part of my community makes me feel like I am bonded to her,” said Adriana Ayo, a fellow resident of Hilltop Apartments.

Ayo is taking this story to heart.

“This kind of thing makes me sick, in general,” she said. “And I just hope she gets the help that she needs.”

Ayo said this could have happened to anyone because dating apps, like WeChat, are very popular.

“Everybody around here uses them,” Ayo said.

Police arrested 28-year-old Li on Wednesday morning. He’s a postdoctoral research associate in Purdue’s Department of Food Science and is from the Henan Province in China.

“People can be totally normal people, like in every way, and then they have like these hidden things about them that you could never find out until they act on them,” said Ayo.

Purdue Police Chief John Cox said, “He grabbed her, forcefully kissed her. She tried to pull away, he ended up pushing her down on the bed and tried to remove her shirt.”

Residents at Hilltop agree, what happened isn’t right.

“Taking someone’s free will away and using their body for something as if they’re just an object, that’s the part that’s messed up,” Hilltop resident Mangkorn Yuan said.

Just because someone is behind bars doesn’t mean the investigation is over. Police still have to talk to neighbors and check nearby surveillance videos.

“The prosecutors office will review that and make some sort of final charging determination,” said Cox.

But in the meantime, Ayo would like to thank the alleged victim.

“I think it’s really brave for this girl to have reported it so quickly because that was probably the reason that they were able to catch this guy so fast and keep him from doing this to anybody else,” she said.

News 18 is still waiting to hear if Li will be fired from Purdue following the allegations. We will continue following this case as it develops.