Close to 100 people gathered at The Anderson Apartments Monday evening to honor the life of slain graduate student Abhijit Mahato and mourn violent murders in Durham.
The vigil was one example of how the community has responded to recent student murders in the area. Durham residents and members of the Duke community were present at the event, in addition to many local media outlets.
"I have so many things to say about him, but whatever I say is less," Tanmay Patni, Grad '07 and Mahato's roommate of 10 months, told the crowd. Mahato was shot and killed Jan. 18 in his home at The Anderson Apartments.
An initial memorial service was held Jan. 25 at Duke for Mahato, which The (Raleigh) News & Observer reported about 100 people attended, and a prayer was held at the Hindu Temple of North Carolina the following Sunday. Junior Akash Bansal, president of Duke's International Association, said the first service was quieter at the request of Mahato's deans, friends and relatives.
In contrast, several thousand gathered at two vigils held for Eve Carson, a senior and student body president at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The first vigil was March 6, one day after her body was found, and the second was March 18, after UNC's spring break.
Although the initial response to the Mahato murder was muted, Carson's death received significant national media and community attention immediately following the incident.
Gov. Mike Easley offered a reward of as much as $10,000 for any leads in the Carson case. Connie Eason in the special prosecutions division of the N.C. Department of Justice, said no reward was offered in Mahato's case because it is ongoing. She said there are two criteria for offering a governor's reward: the case must be closed with all leads exhausted, and there must be significant public outcry for more information.
The UNC board of trustees also offered $25,000 for any leads in the Carson case.
John Burness, senior vice president for public affairs and government relations, said Duke officials discussed offering a reward several days after Mahato's murder, but decided against it because Stephen Oates, 19, was arrested Jan. 23. and indicted Feb. 5 for the crime.
Burness added that after the arrest, there was little indication that police were searching for further information on the case.
Durham Police Department officials, who did not respond to requests for comment, did not publicize to media outlets that the Mahato case was still in progress.
But Laurence Lovette, 17, was arrested and indicted for the murders of Mahato and Carson March 13 and March 17, respectively.
"I find it very confusing that it's been two months, and we find that we've closed Eve Carson's case already but with Abhijit Mahato's we're still moving ahead," Bansal said. "I wonder why that is-is it because DPD isn't doing well or possibly because he is an international student whose family isn't living in the U.S.?"
He said there are several factors that may have contributed to Carson's murder garnering more community response than Mahato's, noting that she was a visible and prominent student on UNC's campus and had close connections to many undergraduates.
In addition, several community members voiced concern over the timing of Monday's vigil, which was organized by the Religious Coalition for a Nonviolent Durham, Parents of Murdered Children and Durham Congregations in Action.
"I'd say it took them a little longer to get this together," said Jeremy Block, Trinity '03 and a graduate student. "[Mahato's murder] was so similar to what happened a couple weeks ago [to Carson].... After that happened, one would wonder if that's when people started to care."
But organizers said the more than two-month gap between Mahato's death and the service was not unusual and emphasized that the Carson murder did not influence their decision to hold the vigil, which had been in planning for almost a month.
"They are typically a few months after the person dies so that by that point a lot of maybe the initial grief has passed, but there's still certainly neighborhoods, communities, friends and colleagues that are still grieving the loss of the loved one," the Rev. Abby Kocher, program coordinator at the Chapel and leader of the vigil, told The Chronicle.
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