Written by Ronald Scaglia Friday, 05 October 2012 00:00The worst fears of the community were realized on Sept. 27, when law enforcement officials found the body of New Hyde Park Memorial High School graduate and Northwestern University student Harsha Maddula, 18, shortly before 7 p.m. C.S.T. Maddula, a sophomore, had been missing since the early morning hours of Sept. 22, when he was last seen leaving an off-campus party. According to Alan Cubbage, vice-president of university relations, Maddula did not attend a different party later that Saturday evening, which he was expected to attend, prompting a massive search, which eventually led to the heartbreaking discovery of Maddula’s body in Wilmette Harbor in Illinois on the shore of Lake Michigan.
“It’s been really a somber start to the school year,” said Cubbage. “Classes just started. Usually this is a time of optimism and renewal. It’s cast a shadow over the start of the year.”
Cubbage stated that at least 21 different agencies, including the FBI were involved in the search for Maddula. Because the case involves a death, Cubbage said that the Evanston Police Department would now be the lead agency investigating the circumstances surrounding Maddula’s death.
“Detectives from our department are assigned to the case,” said Commander Jay Parrott, spokesperson for the Evanston Police Department. “They’re reviewing the interviews that were conducted by the Northwestern University Police.”
Parrott said at this time, there is no indication that foul play was involved in the death. The commander said that Maddula was found with his cell phone, his wallet, his university ID, and money. Furthermore, he said that police pinged Maddula’s phone to locate its last phone signal, which he said occurred at approximately 1:07 a.m on Sept. 22. Parrott said that considering the location of the party where Maddula was last seen, and the time it is believed that he left the party, the distance to the harbor where the body was found could be traveled by going at “a normal walking pace.”
“There’s no indication that he was in a car or an alley,” said Parrott. “It’s a very direct route [between the party and the harbor].”
According to Parrott, a boater discovered Maddula’s body. He said that there was no indication that the body had suffered any trauma and that the medical examiner’s office has ruled the cause of Maddula’s death to be drowning. He said that it would be several weeks before toxicology reports including blood alcohol level are available. Although police do not suspect foul play, it is still an open investigation and detectives will examine interviews conducted with Maddula’s friends and witnesses from the party where he was last seen and would also look at his personal computer.
“We’re still trying to determined what happened,” Parrott said.
News of Maddula’s death shocked both New Hyde Park and Northwestern University. Cubbage estimates that about 2,000 attended a community gathering on Sept. 28 to provide solace and support to friends of the Maddula family.
Assistant Chaplain Tahera Ahmad said, “Although this week has brought grief and sadness, it made us realize that we are family, and Harsha was one of us. We will always remember Harsha for who he was, a great source of happiness, a great source of joy.”
In his hometown of New Hyde Park, where Maddula’s two siblings are students at New Hyde Park Memorial, he is remembered for his achievements. Sewanhanka Central High School District Superintendent Dr. Ralph Ferrie had high praise for Maddula.
“He was an outstanding student and an outstanding individual person,” Ferrie said. “There is nothing but positive accolades. The entire district and specifically the New Hyde Park school community are very saddened to learn of this tragedy regarding the loss of our former graduate Harsha Maddula.”
Ferrie said that the high school staff would be providing support for New Hyde Park Memorial students and also asks the community to keep the family in its thoughts and prayers.