TAMPA - After evacuating a local hotel today, authorities believe 33-year-old USF biologist Chitra Chauhan used cyanide to take her own life, and they want to know how she had access to that deadly chemical.
Chauhan worked on finding cures for diseases like encephalitis and malaria.
EMS workers found her with a suicide note on Monday night, in cardiac arrest - the main effect of a toxic chemical found in her possession. Cyanide inhibits the body from using oxygen.
"Typically they talk about air hunger," said Dr. Cynthia Lewis-Younger, the medical director of the Florida Poison Information Center. "People are short of breath, dizzy and maybe confused, as long as they're alert. And then they can, depending on the level of the exposure, rapidly become unconscious."
Though USF says cyanide is commonly used in university labs, the chemical was not part of the woman's research. A university spokesperson says they're still investigating how she got a hold of it.
Dr. Lewis-Younger says it wouldn't have been easy.
"You don't find it at the convenience store on the corner, so you would have to be someone who has access to chemicals in order to get it," she said.
Cyanide is uncommon enough that Chauhan's death is only the third in 11 years in Florida attributed to suicide by cyanide.
Though her death still haunts laboratory halls, one colleague called attention to the 33 years of her life leading up to it, describing her as a beautiful young woman lost to tragedy.
Grief counselors were at USF today, meeting with several of Chauhan's colleagues. She leaves behind a husband and a young child.
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