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Family offers $25,000 reward in search for missing NU student

Authorities search waters Wilmette Harbor Wednesday for missing Northwestern University student HarshMaddula. | Buzz Orr~Sun-Times Media

Authorities search the waters in the Wilmette Harbor on Wednesday for missing Northwestern University student Harsha Maddula. | Buzz Orr~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: October 29, 2012 6:27AM

Emergency crews searching for a missing Northwestern University sophomore focused Wednesday on the Willmette Harbor after tracking his cell phone there — but could find no trace of the Long Island native.

With desperate family members converging on the area, 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. The biomedical student with dreams of becoming a doctor disappeared after attending an off-campus party Friday night. His family says he does not drink alcohol.

NU spokesman Alan Cubbage said the search expanded to include the harbor after records indicated the 18-year-old’s cell phone “pinged” the cell tower at the harbor’s U.S. Coast Guard station 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 Cubbage, who described the records as the best lead investigators have received so far. “This is still a missing person’s case.”

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 arrived in Evanston since he disappeared. 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 that 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.”

More than 100 Northwestern students have volunteered to help in the search, fanning out around Evanston and putting up fliers.

“What we’re trying to pin down was who was with him at the party, and who was with him when he left,” Cubbage said.

Maddula is 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 about Maddula’s location is asked to call Northwestern University Police at (847) 491-3254.

Contributing: Mitch Dudek

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