The family of missing Brown University Sunil Tripathi talks openly for the first time about how they handled the hardship of strangers mistakenly linking Sunil to the Boston bombings.
On the day his brother went missing, Ravi Tripathi made the trip from Philadelphia to Providence, R.I. as fast as he could.
“We dropped everything. We didn’t even pack. And then a couple of days turned into over a month.”
For 36 days now, Providence has been ground zero in the search for Sunil Tripathi – his immediate family, extended family and close friends are all there together. Every day they meet and collaborate on what they can do next to find Sunil, who disappeared on March 16.
“It’s a big group, a lot of extended family. It’s been tremendous, the support,” Ravi said.
Sunil had taken a leave from Brown University this semester. He was living in a Providence apartment with some classmates. The 22-year-old battles depression, but the consensus among family members is that he seemed to be faring well in the weeks before he went missing.
The search has been relentless and far-reaching.
“The first three weeks focused on the area close to his apartment. Then we made a big push to organize family and friends in Boston and Philadelphia,” Ravi said. “I have friends who are contacting hospitals and homeless shelters in Philadelphia and hanging fliers in SEPTA stations.”
Last Monday, Ravi took a day and went down to Boston to watch a close friend run the marathon.
“It was my first day away from Providence,” he said. He was about a half mile before the finish line. Like so many other spectators, Ravi was caught up in the chaos after the bombings, trying to let everyone know he was okay. He got back to Providence that night, and over the next few days, they all followed the developments in the case.
“We were very happy that the investigation was progressing. We were hoping that the suspects would be identified and apprehended.”
No one was prepared, however, for what happened on Thursday night once the pictures of the two suspects were released. Then the first post hit their “Help Us Find Sunil Tripathi” Facebook page.
“Someone remarking on similarities between Sunil and suspect #2,” Ravi said. “We took down the post, and then we realized it was picking up. His name was being pushed around a lot.”
People were speculating that Sunil Tripathi was the second suspect in the bombing. The idea got out of control quickly on social media and when the family could no longer keep a handle on the hateful messages, they took down the Facebook page and reached out to law enforcement.
“I don’t think any of us could have foreseen what happened last week, but the good thing is, we were all here together.” So they did what they’ve been doing so well, they came together and talked about what they could do next and how to refocus efforts on the search for Sunil.
“Then we decided to take all that negative energy that had been expressed and make it positive,” Ravi said. That is how the Lend Your Hand movement started.
When the family re-launched the Facebook page on Friday, they did it with a heartfelt post and a picture of each family member bearing a different message written on the palm of their hands.
The post acknowledged the pain they’d all been through over the last few hours, and invited everyone to please lend a hand in finding Sunil. Their goal is two-fold. They want to keep people aware that they’re looking for Sunil and “to create a little bit of space for support and unity. And for our own health and personal needs, it’s been wonderful,” Ravi said. “If Sunil heard those rumors, hopefully he can see these messages.”
Six weeks into the search, leads are still coming in to police, but nothing strong enough to provide a break in the case. The note that Sunil left in his apartment, sometime before a surveillance video captured him on the street below, was short and vague and did not provide any help either.
“Anything, really, is a possibility. Whether it be a mental break [that he had], or a break from us that he needed or the life he was stuck in, we just don’t know.”
When they were growing up in Bryn Mawr, there were two constants Ravi could always count on – the support of his close-knit family and the bond he had with his younger brother.
“He was always at my side. We had a lot of fun together growing up. . .He is someone who finds joy in small things.”
As they got older, Ravi pursued medicine and Sunil was a student of Philosophy.
“Whenever we had extended conversations, they usually were about big ideas. He really thought about how people behaved in life and how they made decisions.”
Ravi decided to take a leave from medical school to find his brother. They’ve all put their lives on hold and it is hard at times to answer the question, “What next?”
“I ask myself that same question and I don’t have an answer. We’re all thinking about it – what’s next. Trying to go back to my life seems very away and a foreign experience right now.”
Ravi says he is comforted by the way Sunil has brought everyone together over this suspended amount of time.
“We are all very much human and I think the beauty of what this past month has been, for me anyway, is that if I’m having one of those low moments, my sister, my mom, my dad, one of them will come over to me and try to pick me up with a lot of energy or movement.”
Now they’re just waiting for a phone call. From Sunil.
“We just want to know you’re okay. We love you greatly and we miss you greatly.