Search continues in Evanston for missing Northwestern student
BY KATHY ROUTLIFFE and Steve Schering | Sun-Times Media September 26, 2012 11:00AM
Authorities search the waters in the Wilmette Harbor for missing Northwestern University student Harsha Maddula on Sept. 26. | Buzz Orr~Sun-Times Media
Harsha Maddula, 18, is described as being of Indian descent, 5 feet 8 inches tall, about 150 pounds, with black hair and dark brown eyes. He was last seen wearing black-frame glasses, a gray long-sleeve sweater with white-and -black stitching, dark gray pants and brown shoes.
Anyone with information should call Northwestern University Police at (847) 491-3254.
Updated: October 2, 2012 9:53PM
EVANSTON — The investigation into the disappearance of an 18-year-old Northwestern University student missing since early Saturday continues, with search teams going out into the Evanston area today (Sept. 27).
At 11 a.m. today Northwestern University will provide an update on the investigation into missing Northwestern student Harsha Maddula. McCormick Tribune Center, Forum Room, 1870 Campus Drive, Evanston. (Check back for updates.)
An extensive search of Wilmette Harbor was conducted Wednesday after a cell phone tower in that area picked up a signal from his phone but after the searches there came up empty the harbor search was discontinued.
Between 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, police and divers from the Wilmette and Northbrook fire departments and the U.S. Coast Guard pored over docked boats and probed the waters with sonar looking for some sign of Harsha Maddula, a sophomore who disappeared after reportedly attending an off-campus party Friday night.
According to a university official, the search expanded to include the harbor after phone records indicated that Maddula’s cell phone “pinged” the cell tower at the U.S. Coast Guard station there shortly after 1 a.m. Saturday, about the time he went missing.
“The cell phone pattern showed he came to this area from Evanston, or at least the cell phone did,” said Northwestern spokesman Alan Cubbage, who described the records as the best lead investigators have received so far. “This is still a missing person’s case.”
Authorities were not able to trace his phone records until Tuesday evening when the search at the harbor began. Cubbage said the search of the surrounding area could continue on land as long as there is daylight.
The harbor is near Sheridan Road and Michigan Avenue in Wilmette — not far from NU’s campus. Maddula’s dorm – Public Affairs Residential College on Chicago Avenue – is about two miles south of the harbor.
No physical evidence – clothes or the phone – were discovered in the water, in nearby boats or on land, he said.
Some 30 members of Maddula’s family have converged on Evanston, desperate for any word on the whereabouts of the Long Island, N.Y. native.
While speaking with reporters camped out at the harbor, they announced a $25,000 reward for information leaving to his return.
Maddula’s uncle, Sam Maddali, said the harbor was not the kind of place which would attract his nephew.
“He does not like swimming or the outdoors,” Maddali said. “He really likes reading books, and he’s a wonderful kid. Hopefully we’ll bring him home today.”
Maddula’s cousin, Srinu Maddula, who flew in from Philadelphia, said he didn’t know what to make of the disappearance.
“This is not like him. He’s the nicest person I’ve known in my entire life.”
Srinu Maddula said his cousin suffers from a rare form of diabetes – Modi – making it critical that he take his medicine.
“Anything worse could happen – he could pass out, a diabetic coma,” Maddali said. “It’s just dangerous.”
Maddula’s family said they’re getting conflicting information about his whereabouts the night he disappeared.
Family members said they’ve been told Maddula went to a party late Friday.
Maddula’s dormitory resident adviser has told investigators she called Maddula at 12:30 a.m. Saturday to remind him about a mandatory dorm meeting, Maddali said.
Maddula told the R.A. that he was home for the night, Maddali said.
But video surveillance cameras show no evidence that Maddula returned home, the uncle said. Maddula doesn’t have a roommate, Maddali said.
Maddula was described as a very bright young man, who is studying bio-medical science with plans to become a doctor. He is also a practicing Hindu and didn’t drink alcohol, family said.
More than 100 Northwestern students have volunteered to help in the search, fanning out around Evanston and putting up fliers that include Maddula’s photo.
“What we’re trying to pin down was who was with him at the part, and who was with him when he left,” Cubbage said, noting that students are cooperating with campus police.
He also explained a 50-hour gap between the initial call to police and a campus-wide alert as standard operating procedure, during which Northwestern Police worked to contact Maddula’s family and determine if the missing person’s call was bona fide.
Maddula is described as being of Indian descent, 18 years old, 5 feet 8 inches tall, about 150 pounds, with black hair and dark brown eyes. He was last seen wearing black-frame glasses, a gray long-sleeve sweater with white-and -black stitching, dark gray pants and brown shoes.
Anyone with information about Maddula’s location is asked to call Northwestern University Police at (847) 491-3254.
— Stefano Esposito contributed to this report.