Misrach Ewunetie ’24, a junior in the Department of Sociology from Euclid, Ohio, died on Oct. 20 on Princeton University’s campus. Described by family and friends as a “precious, beautiful soul,” and a “role model, tutor, and best friend,” Ewunetie was remembered by those who knew her as a “great listener.” She was 20 years old.
On Oct. 24, hundreds gathered on campus to mourn Ewunetie at two vigils, one organized by Princeton Ethiopian and Eritrean Student Association (PEESA) in the University Chapel and another by the Office of Religious Life in Murray-Dodge Hall. At the vigil, she was remembered by friends as “exceptionally kind” and “a really, really integral part of our community.”
The Middlesex County Medical Examiner’s Office has not released the results of an autopsy and the cause of the death has not yet been determined. The Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office stated there is “no evidence of any criminal activity associated with Ms. Ewunetie’s death.”
As of Nov. 21, a GoFundMe has raised over $150,000 for the Ewunetie family — funding that will assist “with the expenses associated with a funeral, an independent autopsy, and significant travel.”
Ewunetie was born on Feb. 7, 2002, in Ethiopia. She immigrated to the United States in 2008 with her parents and older brothers, Universe and Jhonatan. Ewunetie was in the process of becoming a naturalized citizen of the United States shortly before her death.
A close friend, Yzabella May Estacio, described Ewunetie to The Daily Princetonian as “the smartest person” she knows.
“She’s really funny but funny in the way that you’re not trying to be funny,” she said in an interview. “She always takes other people into consideration and is so genuine and loving. She’s just a very kind soul. I’m so glad that she was a part of my life and that she decided to be friends with me.”
Ewunetie attended Villa Angela-St. Joseph Catholic high school in Cleveland, Ohio, where she graduated as class valedictorian in 2020.
In high school, she was a part of Minds Matter Cleveland, a program for low-income, hard-working, high-achieving students in Cleveland. Her friends stated that she was a member of the science olympiad, GEM, a girls’ empowerment group, and the soccer team.
She attended The Mountain School, a semester program for high school juniors located on a hilltop farm in Vershire, Vt. Students gather at the school to live, work, and study with each other and their faculty. She also played the ukulele during her free time.
In addition to her concentration in sociology, Ewunetie was also pursuing a certificate in applications of computing. She was a member of PEESA, New College West (NCW), and Terrace F. Club. She matriculated to the University in the fall of 2020 through the QuestBridge National Match Program, a prestigious college entrance program.
May Estacio and Chey, a friend who asked that her last name be omitted due to privacy concerns, met Ewunetie in the fourth grade at St. John of the Cross School, when Ewunetie was a new student. The two approached Ewunetie at recess and decided to remain friends since then. Chey also said she played basketball with Ewunetie in the seventh grade.
May Estacio told the ‘Prince’ of a memory she and Ewunetie shared during their time at Kairos, a four-day religious retreat.
“There’s a moment where everyone gets letters from loved ones and I opened my package and I found that [Ewunetie] gave me a letter,” May Estacio said. “She used a piece of paper that I gave her years prior because I know she loves writing. She gave me this cute little letter with her amazing handwriting, saying ‘I miss you and I’m gonna miss you so much at school’ and all this cute stuff.”
“It just really touched me that she still had this piece of paper,” she said.
May Estacio explained that the two continued to keep in touch even when Ewunetie went to Princeton.
“We would even have video chats and we watch[ed] movies and TV series together while she was in Princeton and I was here in Ohio,” May Estacio said. “She would send me gifts in the mail [whenever it] was my birthday or Christmas. And I would send her stuff too.”
“I definitely feel like our friendship grew over time,” she added. “We became closer even though [we] didn’t necessarily have to talk to each other all the time.”
May Estacio said that Ewunetie often kept her accomplishments to herself and wouldn’t share her talents unless asked.
“She was the most humble person I’ve ever met,” she said.
Acquaintances of Ewunetie described her as “considerate and sweet,” and May Estacio said that “from being her best friend, I can tell you that she truly is.”
Chey also told the ‘Prince’ about the positivity Ewunetie always radiated.
“I’ve never met someone who has such good energy,” Chey said. “She was also very smart. Always getting straight A’s in class.”
Ewunetie was one of the first people Mia Taylor met when she transferred from public school to Ss. Robert and William Catholic School in middle school. They both attended the same elementary school but became friends in middle school.
Taylor recalled a time before college when Ewunetie was the first person to meet her dog.
“It was important to me. I [remember thinking] my dog had to like my best friend or we’re going to have to get rid of him,” she said. “She is one of the few people who my dog actually enjoys.”
Taylor said that Ewunetie was a generous soul who was always there for her when she needed her.
“My family had a little bit of money troubles sometimes,” Taylor said. “Sometimes I would forget to pack my lunch and she’d either give me the lunch money I needed or would share her lunch with me. She gave me these pomegranate seeds because she had them one day and was asked, ‘Do you want these?’”
“[E]ver since, I can only eat cold pomegranates because that’s how she packed them,” she added. “I can never forget that because she was always there for me whenever something was going on.”
Leah Stanoch attended elementary school with Ewunetie for two years, and the two became better friends in high school when they both joined the soccer team.
“She progressed so much [on the team],” Stanoch told the ‘Prince.’
Stanoch also described how the two would do “goofy” warmups together.
“She would match my energy,” Stanoch said. “I remember, all of a sudden [during our warm-up laps], I started singing some songs. And then at the same time, we both made up the lyrics. So we sang it to the same tune.”
Stanoch explained how Ewunetie was always “warm and welcoming,” “trustworthy and honest,” and “made everyone feel included.”
“She was the perfect friend,” she said.
Yen Ji (Julia) Byeon is a sociology graduate student and Ewunetie’s preceptor for SOC300: Claims and Evidence in Sociology, a required course for all sociology majors in their first semester of junior year.
Byeon told the ‘Prince’ that Ewunetie was studying “predictors of happiness and well-being in different regions of the world” for her final project. She explained that Ewunetie was looking at factors such as marketing and religion to measure happiness, and had surveys and datasets in mind to use for the project.
Byeon explained how their precept was on Fridays at 8 a.m., and although most of the students would come in tired, Ewunetie would always come in with a smile on her face.
“She was a really pleasant person,” Byeon said. “She was a joy to have in class. She was a really nice person and hardworking and very genuine with her interests [as a student].”
Professor of Geosciences Satish C. Myneni, who was Ewunetie’s undergraduate academic advisor in her first two years at Princeton, remarked that he was struck by Ewunetie’s ability to listen well in a conversation.
“One thing which I have never seen in my 20 years here on campus is that she is an amazing listener,” Myneni recalled to the ‘Prince.’ “When she was talking, if I interrupted, she would immediately stop and not say anything until I finished and then communicate. She’s such a good listener, giving so much time to the other person. I haven’t seen such a beautiful quality in any person.”
Through their conversations, Myneni observed that Ewunetie was deeply connected to her family and frequently spoke of them.
“She was very closely connected to her family, especially her brothers because she always used to say, ‘My brother did this. My brother is interested in this,’” he said.
Kenya Ripley-Dunlap ’24, a junior concentrating in ecology and evolutionary biology, said she developed a friendship with Ewunetie after the two met each other shortly before Thanksgiving in 2021.
“It was always very calm with her; it’s always pleasant. She’s always down for anything but also wanted to make sure that those around her were happy,” Ripley-Dunlap said. “It really seemed like everything she did was super thoughtful and loving. It seems like that was always her intention. She’s always complimenting people.”
May Estacio told the ‘Prince’ how she wished people would remember Ewunetie’s memory.
“She’d always exclusively wear gold jewelry ever since I’ve known her from [the] fourth grade,” May Estacio said. “If it’s possible, please try to wear gold jewelry in remembrance of her.”
Ewunetie is survived by her mother, father, and her brothers, Universe and Jhonatan. Her family declined several requests to speak with the ‘Prince’ for this obituary.
Lia Opperman is an assistant news editor for the ‘Prince’ who often covers University affairs, political coverage, and student life.
Allan Shen is a senior writer who often covers research and obituaries. He previously served as an associate news editor.
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Misrach Ewunetie attended Richmond Heights Elementary School. In fact, she attended St. John of the Cross School on Richmond Road.
Please direct any corrections requests to corrections at dailyprincetonian.com.