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'Body Found in Lake': Brother of Missing Indian Student Found Dead in US

'Arfath's body was found in Cleveland's Lake Erie,' his cousin Farhaan said while speaking to The Quint.

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Mohammed Abdul Arfath, a 25-year-old Master's student who had been missing in the United States for over a month, was found dead by police officials on Tuesday, 9 April.

"The cops called us today at around 3:43 PM ET [1:13 AM IST] and informed us that they found Arfath’s body in Cleveland's Lake Erie," Arfath's cousin brother Farhaan (name changed on request) said while speaking to The Quint.

"They have since able to retrieve the body and have sent it to the coroner’s office where the autopsy will be done," he added.

Arfath, who hailed from Hyderabad, had left for the US in May 2023 to pursue a degree in Information Technology at Ohio's Cleveland State University. He was the only son of Salim, who works as a centering worker in Hyderabad, and his wife, who is a homemaker.

Farhaan, who is a software professional based in Washington DC, has been in constant contact with the police since his cousin's disappearance on 7 March.

He said that Arfath's passport was on him and that's what helped the police identify him. "I haven’t been able to visually identify him and will do that tomorrow," Farhaan said.

Arfath's parents have also been informed and they are in touch with the Indian consulate which has assured them of all necessary help.

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On Tuesday, the Indian consulate in New York took to X to express their condolences over Arfath's death.

"Anguished to learn that Mr. Mohammed Abdul Arfath, for whom search operation was underway, was found dead in Cleveland, Ohio," it said, adding, "We are extending all possible assistance to the bereaved family to transport his mortal remains to India."

The consulate further said that it is in touch with local authorities to ensure a thorough investigation into the matter.

The Quint had earlier spoken to Arfath's father when he was missing. He had said that the last time that he had heard his son's voice was on 7 March, and that he sounded "completely normal" to him.

"I spoke to him over the phone. After that when I tried calling the number it was switched off. I waited for two days – thinking that he will call back. But on the third day I started to get suspicious," Arfath's father had said.

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'His Luggage Was Intact, Didn't Feel Like He Was Going Anywhere'

Arfath's cousin Farhaan told The Quint that when his uncle informed him of the situation, he tried calling Arfath but wasn't able to get through. He then contacted Arfath's roommates who told him that his brother had disappeared and that they had lodged a missing person's report at the local police station on 9 March.

"Arfath's friends said that he left home on 7 March and hadn't returned," Farhaan said, adding that the very next day he left for Cleveland.

"When I entered his (Arfath's) room, I saw that all his luggage, except his phone and laptop, was intact. Even his wallet was in the room. It didn't feel like he had decided to go anywhere," Farhaan said.

He then met with Cleveland Police officials, who told him that Arfath's phone had been active on 7 March, and was traced to a local Walmart. CCTV footage confirmed that Arfath was at Walmart on that day.

'Arfath's body was found in Cleveland's Lake Erie,' his cousin Farhaan said while speaking to The Quint.

CCTV footage showing Arfath at the local Walmart on 7 March.

(Photo: Accessed by The Quint)

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However, nobody knows what happened next, Farhaan said. "When we asked the police where he went after that, they didn't have an answer."

The Cleveland Division of Police also put out a missing person's circular on 9 March.

'Arfath's body was found in Cleveland's Lake Erie,' his cousin Farhaan said while speaking to The Quint.

The Quint has reached out to the Cleveland Police and Cleveland State University. This report will be updated as and when they respond.

Meanwhile, Farhaan said that local politicians in Cleveland and the Indian Embassy in New York contacted him regarding his brother's disappearance.

He claimed that the Indian Embassy told him that the police had refused to share case-specific details with them.

On 21 March, the Indian Embassy in New York took to X to say that they were in touch with Arfath's family and authorities in the US. "We are working with local law enforcement agencies to find him at the earliest," they added.

The Quint also reached out to the Indian Embassies in Chicago and New York for an update. Their responses are awaited.

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'Give Us $1,200 or We'll Sell His Kidney'

On 19 March, 12 days after Arfath disappeared, Salim alleged that he got a WhatsApp message from a US-based number saying that his son was in their custody.

"The person on the other end said that Arfath is in big trouble because he owes money to the drug mafia," Farhaan said. "They then asked for $1,200 [around Rs 1 lakh] within the next 30 minutes for his safe return."

Farhaan said that when Arfath's parents called the number, the person who picked up the phone said nothing. A few seconds later, he claimed, they could hear someone crying.

"They kept asking whether it was their son on the other end, but all they could hear was a crying voice. It could have been anybody. The duration of the call was only two minutes after which it got disconnected."
Farhaan, Arfath's cousin brother

Later that day they got a message from the same number saying that they will sell Arfath's kidney and other body parts and retrieve their money.

Panicked, Arfath's father Salim immediately reached out to the Indian Embassy in the US.

"The Embassy said that they were aware of the situation and were looking into the matter. They asked me not to be tensed, but I don't know how they are dealing with the situation," Salim said.

Meanwhile, nobody contacted Arfath's parents from that number again. Calls made and messages sent by the family have also gone unanswered. "We have been staying up nights as it is daytime in the US, just to see whether we can get any more information about our son," Salim told The Quint. "Arfath had no enmity with anybody – I don't know why someone would do this."

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When the police were informed of the alleged ransom call, they suspected that it was a fraud, Farhaan told The Quint.

"The cops told us that it might have been Arfath who made the call, but I don't believe that for a second," he said.

Apart from the Indian missions in the US, Salim had also written a letter to External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, requesting his intervention in the matter to bring his son back safely.

Attacks on Indian Students on the Rise in US

This incident comes in the backdrop of concerns regarding the safety of Indians – especially Indian students – in the US. In 2024 alone, there have been at least nine tragic incidents involving Indians in the country.

The body of 20-year-old Abhijeet Paruchuru, who hailed from Andhra Pradesh and had been studying at Boston University, was found in a car on 11 March.

While the initial probe conducted by the Boston Police ruled out foul play, several people – including Paruchuru's family – reportedly claim that their son was murdered by assailants and his body left in a car in a forest deep inside the university campus.

In another unfortunate incident, a Bharatnatyam dancer from West Bengal named Amarnath Ghosh was shot to death in St Louis, Missouri on 27 February.

Earlier that month, a 23-year-old Indian-origin student named Sameer Kamath, who was studying at Purdue University, was found dead in a nature preserve in Indiana. Just three days before Kamath's death, Vivek Taneja, an Indian American IT professional, died after being assaulted outside a restaurant in Washington DC.
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The Indian government had said in February that they had shared their concerns regarding the safety of Indian students with US authorities.

When asked about the rising violence against Indians in the US, the country's Ambassador to India Eric Garcetti said that the Joe Biden government was "very committed" to assure Indian-origin people of their safety.

“Our heart is always touched when any tragedy, whether it is a life taken by somebody or any violence – no matter who they are. We are very committed to making sure that Indians know that the US is a wonderful place to study and to be safe. We have more Indians studying in the US than any country in the world,” Garcetti was quoted as saying by news agency ANI.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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