An inconsolable Dhanalakshmi Maddula wailed her son’s name Monday afternoon as the coffin of her 18-year old son, Harsha Maddula, was placed into the hearse on Jericho Turnpike in front of the Park Funeral Chapel in Garden City Park Monday afternoon.
“He was like the most responsible kid I even know,” said Sherwin Shaju, who shared every class with Maddula in New Hyde Park Memorial and last spoke with him on his own birthday. “So this was like the biggest surprise for everyone. He’s like the best kind of friend you ever asked for in high school.”
Maddula, 18, was a sophomore at Northwestern University in suburban Chicago when he went missing on the night of September 22 after leaving an on-campus party. Classmates had told university police that he was en route to another party when they last saw him, but he never returned to his dorm room. His body was recovered from the waters of a Lake Michigan harbor on the night of September 27. The Cook County Medical Examiner’s office has ruled the death an accidental drowning.
Philipyos Samuel, who lives near the family’s Garden City Park home and whose son was Maddula’s classmate from third grade, learned about Maddula’s disappearance last Thursday.
“He’s a family friend and he used to play with my son even through the summer time and any holidays, play in my backyard and he used to come to my home,” he said. “He’s a very nice guy, he did not deserve to die. We were not expecting this kind of pain.”
Matthew Barughese, 18, a friend of Maddula’s, believes that that determination “is not true. There’s something more to this and I hope it gets found out. He’s not the type of guy who goes at 12:30 in the harbor and goes for a swim.”
Maddula was also recently diagnosed with type I diabetes, which requires insulin injections to stabilize sugar levels in the blood. Reports had stated that Maddula initially had difficulty adapting to the diagnosis and was “depressed,” allegedly refusing to take medication before being convinced otherwise by family members.
“It wasn’t under control for a while and then he controlled it,” Saju Samuel, 19, said of the diabetes, refusing to believe that Maddula might also have taken his own life. “ I honestly can’t see him doing this to himself. He’s a guy that has a plan, he’s clever."
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Maddula graduated from New Hyde Park Memorial High School in 2010. His two younger brothers currently attend the school.
“We’re just very saddened about this loss and our thoughts and prayers are with the family,” Sewanhaka Superintendent Dr. Ralph Ferrie said at the chapel. “Certainly we’ll be there to support the family and his two brothers and whatever they may need.”
Dr. Ferrie stated that the district would wait until after the funeral and hold a discussion with the family about a potential memorial for the student population.
The large western wing of the funeral chapel was filled with mourners throughout the 3-hour service, with a line stretching around the room to offer condolences to Maddula’s family. A digital picture frame in the central lobby rotated photos of Maddula throughout his life for those who could not find a seat.
“It’s unexpected,” Maddula’s maternal uncle Vasu Kakollu, 49, said. “The investigation is still going on. He’s a (very good) swimmer, he knows how to swim. There’s no way he would have drowned like that. Nobody knows what kind of condition he was in if he did fall. Medically he was fine. he touched so many lives in a short period... it was unbelievable.”
The family has received thousands of condolence messages after Maddula’s death, especially after the outreach conducted over the internet when he was declared missing. Maddula was enrolled in Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Sciences as family members say that he was studying to become a doctor.
“The responses coming from all over the word and the internet, we’re truly blessed and we wish we had more time with him and enjoy and he was a wonderful, intelligent, kind, caring kid,” Kakollu said. “He always like to help people, he always put others first. He had so many dreams and so many visions he wanted to do. So sad that everything is cut short.”
Maddula’s remains are to be cremated at the Fresh Pond Crematorium in Middle Village, Queens. A separate ceremony is scheduled for Sunday at the Ganesh Temple from 12-4 p.m. in Flushing.