NRI:Indian student commits suicide in Ossining, Westchester, NY, US

Mentally disturbed Indian student commits suicide in US

New York: A former doctoral student from India, who had become homeless and mentally unstable, committed suicide by jumping off a bridge near New York.

Ganesh Santhanakrishnan, 27, died on April 3, soon after being released from the Westchester Medical Centre’s psychiatric unit and three years after moving to the US from Chennai.

The police held back his identity so far while making contact with his family in India. He had been living the life of a loner in Ossining in Westchester county after losing his computer-related job in New Jersey.

“He was alone in the country and apparently was experiencing some significant mental issues,” a police investigator told a local paper, The Journal News.

Santhanakrishnan’s mother told the paper from Chennai that he was an academically accomplished but fun-loving guy whose life went downhill after he lost student funding.
His neighbours in Ossining said that over the past year he exhibited increasingly erratic behaviour, like chasing cars, chanting in the middle of the night, and once even running after a mailman with a log of wood.

Santhanakrishnan, who had no criminal record, was arrested last month. After a week in jail, he was evaluated in the Westchester Medical Centre.

After losing his job in October last, he vacated his apartment, and started living in a concrete bunker storage space.

Back in India, Santhanakrishnan’s parents suspected he was going through a rough patch with the job search and urged him to return home.

In November, his father asked his sister, who was visiting the US from India, to check up on him. That was when the family learned of his homeless living arrangements

Extracts from LoHud.com

Armed with a freshly minted engineering degree from a prestigious college in India, Santhanakrishnan arrived at the University of Pittsburgh in the fall of 2002 to pursue graduate degrees in computer science.

“To my son, America was a wonderland, a dreamland, where scholars are rewarded for their work, and he wanted to fulfill his ambition to receive a doctorate and make a career for himself,” his inconsolable mother, Radha Santhanakrishnan, cried over the phone from Chennai, India. “But none of that came true for him.”

Many of his friends from his undergraduate college days at the National Institute of Technology in Trichy, India, remember him as extremely studious, but fun-loving.

“He loved to read Frederick Forsyth novels, and had the most infectious laugh,” said Girishankar Gurumurthy, 27, who works for Texas Instruments in Bangalore, India.

These descriptions, however, bear little resemblance to what neighbors in Ossining witnessed during the past nine months. Santhanakrishnan seemed to descend into a mental abyss, howling into the night, sleeping in a storage shed. He had lost an extreme amount of weight. Gurumurthy himself viewed a recent picture of his old friend and said he hardly could recognize the man he knew in college.

Santhanakrishnan, who had no criminal record, was arrested in March. After a week in jail, he was evaluated in Westchester Medical Center’s psychiatric unit, then released – the day before he committed suicide.

After graduating with a master’s in computer science in spring 2005, Santhanakrishnan spent another year pursuing a Ph.D. in the Information Sciences Department at Pittsburgh.

“Ganesh had several technical publications,” said his academic adviser, Paul Munro. “He had published significantly more than most students at his stage, and he was generally acknowledged to be quite bright and very hardworking.”

Though the university would not comment on why Santhanakrishnan didn’t complete his doctoral program, his father, Santhanakrishnan Rajaraman, said he had stopped receiving funding. That’s when he took a computer-related job near Ossining, his father said.

Santhanakrishnan moved into 32 Old Albany Post Road in October 2006 after answering an online ad for a housemate. Aron Schor, 29, lived with Santhanakrishnan for the first six months.

“He was a little geeky, Asperger’s-like (referring to a condition characterized by difficulties in social interaction), but no red flags,” Schor said. “We never really connected.”

Schor remembers Santhanakrishnan as having turned up the thermostat to 85 degrees on the day he moved in. “I thought that was rather rude. But he told us he was sensitive to cold and would be willing to pay a larger share of the bill.”

Every morning Santhanakrishnan would put on a button-down shirt and khaki pants and sling a laptop on his shoulder as he headed off to work, Schor said. But neither his family nor his friends knew the name of the company he worked for.

Things seemed to have been going fine, at least until Schor, who works in customer service at NBC Sports, moved out of the apartment in March 2007.

“When I left, he was polite and said I could call him if I ever needed anything,” said Schor, who now lives in Stamford, Conn.

During the summer, Santhanakrishnan applied for a position at Ajel Technologies, an Edison, N.J., information technology services company.

“He was offered a job around August,” said Sandhya Dantuluri, Ajel’s human resources manager. “But he never showed up,” and the company rescinded the offer after a waiting period, the resources manager said.

That was around the time neighbors started noticing changes in Santhanakrishnan’s behavior.

“It was late summer, and I would have my windows open, and hear him screaming and swearing loudly. He was clearly mad at someone,” said Dianna Diloreto, who lived across the street at the time. “He did that almost every night.”

Many of Santhanakrishnan’s outbursts were witnessed by workers at a car-repair shop, Corvettes of Westchester, directly opposite the curving, narrow road from the two-story, white-and-red stucco home where Santhanakrishnan had now lived for a year.

“Initially it was like, he was just weird, like someone from another culture. He wouldn’t get some of the things that he was being told,” said Joe Bellantoni, 36, who works part time at the shop. “One time he came here asking if I could fix the window on his car, and I asked him to go to a body shop because we don’t fix cars like his. But he just kept saying, ‘But you fix cars.’ “

By October, Santhanakrishnan vacated his apartment, telling neighbors he had lost his job.

He started renting a “12×12 concrete bunker” storage space off an alley behind the building for $200 a month to store his belongings, said Chris Hlavatovic, a tenant at the multifamily dwelling. He also was permitted to use the driveway to park his car.

But unbeknownst to anyone in the building, or the landlord, Santhanakrishnan started living in the bunker.

Back in India, Santhanakrishnan’s parents suspected he was going through a rough patch with the job search and urged him to return there. He forbade his parents from calling him again.

In November, Santhanakrishnan’s father asked his sister, who was visiting the United States from India, to check up on his son.

That’s when the family learned of his living arrangements. The aunt persuaded Santhanakrishnan to talk with his father, with whom he had not been in touch since May. That was the last time the two spoke.

“We tried to convince him to go back to India, but he didn’t want to hear it,” said his cousin, 35-year-old Balaraman Venkataraman of East Brunswick, N.J. “He was afraid that, if he went back, he may not be able to come back again. My mother offered him money, which he didn’t accept. He was determined to find a job here and become successful.”

Though Venkataraman acknowledged his cousin seemed depressed, he said he wasn’t alarmed.

Did he ask him to see a doctor?

“No. How can you ask a normal person to do that? He was a state rank holder in school,” Venkataraman said. “He was having a hard time with his job search, and we thought he would feel better when he found one.”

But to neighbors, he seemed to be getting worse.

“He would stand by the side of the road and chase down cars,” Bellantoni said. “He would clap loudly in the middle of the night.”

Santhanakrishnan was arrested March 11, accused of breaking into the Ossining home’s boiler room, where he had been using the slop sink, police said. He was charged with criminal mischief and trespass, and was held in the Westchester County jail with bail set at $500. After spending time in the jail’s psychiatric ward, he was sent to the medical center’s mental health unit on the same Valhalla campus.

Two weeks later, on April 2, Santhanakrishnan was discharged from the hospital and returned to Ossining to get his belongings, as he had been asked to leave the premises by his landlord.

Upon reaching the apartment, Santhanakrishnan realized he didn’t have the keys to his car, still parked in the driveway. He walked to the car-repair shop to ask whether someone could help him open it, and to use the phone.

“The boy at the shop didn’t want him there, he was afraid, and he didn’t let him use the phone,” Bellantoni said. “Ganesh then walked back and flagged down a cab.”

He killed himself the next day, leaving behind many questions about what could have been done to prevent the tragedy.

“I should have done more to get him out of that place,” Venkataraman said. “And I don’t know why the hospital didn’t try to contact any of his friends or relatives before releasing him.”

A Westchester Medical Center spokesman said it was the hospital’s policy not to comment on any patient treated in the psych ward.

Santhanakrishnan’s 2001 gray Hyundai – with a 2008 inspection sticker – was still parked in the driveway on Sunday. A side window displayed an New York Police Department sticker that announced: “The Greatest Detectives in the World,” and a U.S. flag lay above the back seat.

Santhanakrishnan’s parents are awaiting their son’s body, en route to India.

“My son has suffered a lot, both mentally and physically,” Radha Santhanakrishnan said. “I want his body to be brought home, and I want to make the ceremonial offerings to his spirit of all the foods I was not able to feed him all these years. I have only one son, and I have now lost him.”

Swapna Venugopal Ramaswamy at svenugop@lohud.com or 914-694-5004.

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