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'Sunil will not even harm an ant'

Last updated on: April 19, 2013 21:34 IST

'Sunil will not even harm an ant'

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George Joseph in New York

Akhil Tripathi, father of the missing student who was wrongly identified as a suspect in the Boston bombings, shares his family's grief with Rediff.com's George Joseph.

The Tripathi family, who have been hunting for their missing son Sunil, 22, since March, had thought of every nightmarish possibility.

Yet the night of April 18 was a nightmare they could never have imagined.

When the Federal Bureau of Investigation put out photographs of the suspected Boston bombers, someone suggested it could be Sunil.

Though the photographs that the FBI released only identified the men as Suspect 1 and Suspect 2, the name Sunil Tripathi suddenly began trending on social media sites like Reddit and Twitter, with some tweets even reporting that the Boston Police Department scanner had named him as one of two men suspected.

For the family it was a night when all anyone knew was that one suspect had been shot dead and Boston and its surrounding areas had gone into a lockdown as the police conducted door-to-door searches for the other, who was mistaken for Sunil.

The speculation died down only when the law enforcement authorities, many hours later, identified the missing man as Dzhokar Tsarnaev, 19.

Associated Press said law enforcement had identified the suspects as 'coming from the Russian region near Chechnya, which has been plagued by an Islamic insurgency stemming from separatist wars.'

Tsarnaev, it added, had been living in Cambridge.

AP cited two law enforcement officials as saying that Tsarnaev and the other suspect, who was identified as his elder brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, had been living legally in the US for at least one year.

Apologies followed, but the damage to a family that is already reeling had been done.

"It was outrageous. Sunil is a non-violent person. He will not even harm an ant," Akhil Tripathi, Sunil's father, who runs a software firm in Pennsylvania, told Rediff.com early April 19.

No one in the family had slept in the last 14 hours, he said.

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Image: Sunil Tripathi
Photographs: Courtesy: The Help Us Find Sunil Tripathi Facebook page

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'Fearing backlash, the family took down the Facebook page

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He added that fearing a backlash they even took down the family Facebook page: Help Find Sunil Tripathi.

Though natives of Philadelphia, for the last month the family -- Sunil's parents Judy and Akhil, elder brother Ravi, and elder sister Sangeeta -- has been living in Providence, Rhode Island, seeking to find some trace of Sunil, who went missing March 16.

He was discovered missing when a friend found a note suggestive of suicidal intent with his belongings in his apartment, the Brown Daily Herald, a university paper, had then quoted Tripathi's sister Sangeeta as saying.

The friend alerted Tripathi's family and the police, she had said.

A former philosophy concentrator, Tripathi took a leave after the spring of his junior year in 2011. He was struggling with depression, Sangeeta had told the Brown Daily Herald: 'He'd been living in Providence and taking time off to help get back on track and feel better about school and feel better about himself and his health and life.'

Family and a close group of friends were very involved in helping him through that struggle, she had added.

Though Tripathi had a history of depression, she had described the disappearance as very atypical: 'There was never ever any history of self-harm or escalation or a rash act at all.'Though angry, for the family the first priority remained their search for Sunil.

Soon after the real suspect was identified, the family restored the Help Find Sunil Tripathi Facebook page and wrote, 'A tremendous and painful amount of attention has been cast on our beloved Sunil Tripathi in the past twelve hours. We have known unequivocally all along that neither individual suspected as responsible for the Boston Marathon bombings was Sunil. We are grateful to all of you who have followed us on Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit - supporting us over the recent hours. Now more than ever our greatest strength comes from your enduring support. We thank all of you who have reached out to our family and ask that you continue to raise awareness and to help us find our gentle, loving, and thoughtful Sunil.'

A statement from the Tripathi family expressed their sympathies for victims and others 'affected by the cowardly acts of violence befalling the Boston community'.

"The last 34 days, and the last 12 hours especially, have been heart-wrenching and exhausting. We remain tireless in our continued search for Sunil," said Judy Tripathi.

"Sunil has a kind, gentle soul, and all family and friends wish is that he is found safe and well," said Sangeeta Tripathi, Sunil's older sister.


Image: Dzhokar Tsarnaev, the absconding suspect in the Boston bombings
Photographs: Courtesy: FBI

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