By Matt Pearce
3:41 PM PDT, April 25, 2013
It was a mystery that ended in sadness: A body found in the Providence River earlier this week has been identified as missing Brown University student Sunil Tripathi, Rhode Island officials announced Thursday.
The discovery of Tripathi's body closed a monthlong search after his March 16 disappearance and opened the way for grief over the 22-year-old's death. The cause was not yet known, but investigators said they didn't suspect foul play.
"As we carry indescribable grief, we also feel incredible gratitude," Tripathi's family said Thursday on a Facebook page that had been set up as part of the search. "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. Your compassionate spirit is felt by Sunil and by all of us."
His family said Tripathi, who was from Radnor, Penn., had left his apartment wearing jeans, a black fleece jacket and a Philadelphia Eagles hat, but he had left his phone and wallet behind.
His family said he had struggled with depression.
Sometimes canvassing by foot, sometimes hanging fliers, the searchers covered parks, hospitals, psychiatric wards, waterfronts and waterways.
Tripathi's disappearance erroneously became intertwined with the search for the Boston Marathon bombing suspects after some social-media users noted that Tripathi resembled the fuzzy surveillance photos of "Suspect 2" from the April 15 bombing.
That speculation erupted early last Friday when rumors that police had named Tripathi as a suspect turned out to be totally, mysteriously false. But during the hours before the Tsarnaev brothers were identified as the suspects, damage was already done.
"A tremendous and painful amount of attention has been cast on our beloved Sunil Tripathi in the past 12 hours," the family wrote Friday. "We have known unequivocally all along that neither individual suspected as responsible for the Boston Marathon bombings was Sunil."
His sister later said she got 58 calls between 3 and 4 a.m. that day, some of them vicious.
That viral-rumor disaster was followed by an outpouring of love for the family across social media, with friends and Facebook users from Rhode Island to Australia writing messages for Tripathi on their hands and posting on the family's page.
Come home safe
Every day I can't wait to see you!
Sunny I ♥ you! Mom
Sunil I love you. Dad
Police said the body was discovered by a Brown University rowing coach in the water at India Point Park, which juts into Providence Harbor a few blocks from Brown University.
"The brother of two Brown graduates, Sunil came to Brown as an undergraduate in 2008," Brown University President Christina Paxson said in a statement. "He was a philosophy concentrator and accomplished saxophonist with a keen interest in music. He was known to be a serious, thoughtful, intellectually curious student and a brilliant writer. Sunil will be remembered by all who knew him for his gentle demeanor and generous spirit."
The family said it would remember the public's generosity as well.
"This last month has changed our lives forever, and we hope it will change yours too," their Facebook page read Thursday. "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."
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