PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — A body pulled from waters off a Providence park was that of a 22-year-old Brown University student missing since last month, the Rhode Island medical examiner’s office said Thursday.
Sunil Tripathi was identified through a forensic dental exam, but a cause of death has not been determined, said Dara Chadwick, a spokeswoman for the state health department.
The announcement put an end to the mystery of Tripathi’s disappearance, which became doubly painful for his family when amateur online sleuths wrongly identified him as a possible suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings.
Tripathi’s family, of Bryn Mawr, Pa., said it was overcome with grief but grateful for the outpouring of support relatives got over the last month.
“As we carry indescribable grief, we also feel incredible gratitude,” the Tripathi family said in a statement on a Facebook page set up to help find Tripathi, who went by Sunny. “To each one of you — from our hometown to many distant lands — we extend our thanks for the words of encouragement, for your thoughts, for your hands, for your prayers, and for the love you have so generously shared.”
Tripathi’s body was found Tuesday by members of the Brown crew team off of India Point Park and was brought to shore by its coach, Providence Police Cmdr. Thomas Oates said. He said the body had been in the water for “some time.”
Tripathi’s family had been searching for him since mid-March with help from the FBI and fellow Brown students. His sister, Sangeeta, said he left his phone, wallet and other belongings in his apartment near campus and simply disappeared. He was on leave from the Ivy League school, where he was studying philosophy, and had been going through a difficult time, she said.
Last week, speculation swirled on Twitter and the website Reddit that Tripathi was the second of two suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings because some thought he resembled one of the people in photos released by the FBI. That person turned out to be 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, authorities said.
Reddit later apologized to Tripathi’s family for fueling “online witch hunts and dangerous speculation which spiraled into very negative consequences for innocent parties.”
Tripathi’s family responded to the speculation in a Facebook post that read: “A tremendous and painful amount of attention has been cast on our beloved Sunil Tripathi in the past 12 hours. We have known unequivocally all along that neither individual suspected as responsible for the Boston Marathon bombings was Sunil.”
The family said in its statement Thursday that the last month “has changed our lives forever, and we hope it will change yours too.”
The family went on: “Take care of one another. Be gentle, be compassionate. Be open to letting someone in when it is you who is faltering. Lend your hand. We need it. The world needs it.”
Brown President Christina H. Paxson sent a message to the campus community Thursday, saying Tripathi — the brother of two Brown graduates— would be remembered for his “gentle demeanor and generous spirit.” She described him as an accomplished saxophonist and a “serious, thoughtful, intellectually curious student and a brilliant writer.”