An autopsy today determined that a missing Northwestern University student found in Wilmette Harbor drowned, but the medical examiner does not know whether the death was accidental.
Harsha Maddula disappeared early Saturday after attending an off-campus party. Maddula’s body was discovered shortly before 7 p.m. Thursday in the water between two boats near the Sheridan Road Bridge. His wallet, identification and cellphone were found in his pants pocket.
“Wilmette investigators that were on the scene said there were no signs of foul play on the body,” university spokesman Alan Cubbage said. Police are also investigating the cause of the death.
Maddula, from New Hyde Park, N.Y., was a sophomore in Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science. He was last seen at 12:30 a.m. leaving the party in the 2000 block of Ridge Road in Evanston.
It’s still unclear whether he left alone or with a group, or who he was last with, university officials said. Investigators say a signal from the student's cellphone pinged a communications tower near the harbor about 1 a.m. Saturday.
On Wednesday, a team of 21 law enforcement agencies and fire departments from three counties conducted the search, and the FBI joined the investigation, according to the school. Also on Wednesday, Maddula’s parents, Prasad Maddula and Dhana Lakshmi Maddula, along with the student’s uncle, Sam Maddali, announced a $25,000 reward for information about his whereabouts.
The harbor was’t the type of place Maddula would normally visit because he’s more of an indoors person, his family said.
About 6:30 p.m. Thursday, a Wilmette resident who did not want to be identified told the Tribune he saw people aboard two small boats pull something out of the water in Wilmette Harbor and place it on a stretcher.
Then about 8:10 p.m., a group of people wearing life vests carried the stretcher around the side of a U.S. Coast Guard building at the harbor and place it into a Wilmette Fire Department ambulance, which left the scene.
A little later, a police officer wearing rubber gloves carried two brown evidence bags, one of which appeared to be wet, and placed them into a squad car.
“It’s a somber start to the school year,” Cubbage said. “Clearly something like this casts a shadow over the start to the year.”
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