Indian American community raises over $612,000 to help families of Arizona drowning victims

Ritu Jha-

A day that had begun on a fun note for two Indian American families in Arizona turned into a tragedy as they chose to click photos on the frozen Woods Canyon Lake.

Three Indian nationals – Narayana Rao Muddana, a TCS employee, and his wife Haritha along with Gokul Mediseti, an Athena employee – all residents of Chandler, a suburb of Phoenix, AZ, died when they plunged into the frigid waters that the community leader believes could have been avoided if they had acted with some caution.

Family members and friends started a Gofundme fundraiser to help the bereaved family members. The Muddanas are survived by two daughters while Mediseti is survived by his wife and a child. The fundraiser has already collected more than $612,000 (at 9.30 pm, Arizona time on December 28).

Venkat Kommineni, president of the Arizona Telugu Association and executive advisor for the India Association of Phoenix spoke to indica about the fundraiser and the tragedy that befell the two families on December 26.

Kommineni is helping the grief-stricken family members of the deceased and also assisting them in the fundraiser.

“It is a frozen river where the two families went, though it is not allowed to venture close to these parts. Despite that, they went there because they believed that it wasn’t dangerous. They stepped onto the frozen surface of the river to click a family picture.

“Then maybe because of their combined weight, the ice sheet broke and they plunged into the frigid water. I was told that first, the Muddana couple fell through and when Gokul rushed to their aid and tried to save them, he too drowned,” Kommineni said.

Gokul’s wife Lakshmi Sridevi, their child, and Muddana’s daughters – Pujitha (11) and Harshitha (7) – who witnessed the tragedy unfold are in a state of shock. After a search operation that lasted for several hours, the bodies of the Muddana couple could be located in the icy waters.

The two girls are staying at a friend’s house who is their neighbor and would be going to India, as they are not born here.

“I was informed about the incident later in the evening and I have been helping them with whatever resources I have. Bodies of the Muddana couple will be taken to India for final rites, while Gokul’s relatives have decided to cremate his body in the US,” Kommineni said.

He said Gokul too was on an H1-B visa. He lived in Pheonix Arizona with his wife,” said Kommineni. “Gokul worked at Atena as senior remedy technical support engineer and his wife is on a work visa [EAD] here. After her husband’s death, her immigration status is not clear. She was in a state of shock and could not speak much. Once I get all details from her, we’ll approach the immigration legal team.”

Kommineni, however, has a word of caution: “People need to take care of themselves and they need to be cautious. Everybody wants to have fun but you have to see that safety is paramount in whatever enjoyment you have. Be it clicking photos or having other kinds of fun, you need to be very sensitive about safety factors. People venture into the danger zone without protective gear or any kind of safety net. People have to choose their form of enjoyment with constraint, and with an eye on the safety net as well.”

Reacting to the incident, Sandra Muro Singh, who knew Haritha, told indica, ”I knew them because they would come to dine at my family restaurant, Taj Mahal in Scottsdale, Arizona. She would come with her girlfriends and she was the absolutely the nicest guest always, so happy all the time, super friendly and courteous; a one of a kind lady,” Singh said.

“It really breaks my heart. The last time she did come was with her girlfriends and her two girls, beautiful girls. I am so sad for this family, such a tragedy. God always takes the best people.”

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