“It’s still a mystery,” said Vijay Kolluru, an uncle who came to the District on Thursday. “We are still wondering how he ended up there,” he said.
Kolluru said his family is devastated; his sister in India is too shaken by the loss of her only son that she cannot speak on the phone.
“We are so deeply shocked. I don’t know how long it will take to come out of this shock.”
The uncle said that Potharaju had a contract to work at the International Monetary Fund for the week he disappeared. He had spent the weekend touring the city with relatives, the uncle said.
Potharaju was with his cousin, his cousin’s wife and their son when his relatives left him to use a restroom, according to Kishan Putta, an Advisory Neighborhood Commission member from Dupont Circle who has been helping the family. Potharaju, who was talking on his cellphone, stayed behind.
When his relatives returned, Potharaju had vanished, Putta said.
They looked on the tour bus. They called his cellphone, but it was inoperable.
Potharaju was the second person to be pulled from water near the Mall in the recent days, both near the District’s cherry blossom trees, whose blooms can draw a million visitors to the path around the large basin.
Potharaju grew up in southern India in the town of Guntur, where his parents still live, Putta said. For the past five years, he had lived in the Chicago area with his wife, Manjula, and two daughters and worked as a computer engineer for a consulting firm in India.
According to fliers distributed by the U.S. Park Police, Potharaju and his relatives began their bus tour from near Union Station about 2:30 p.m. Easter Sunday. By 4:30 p.m., they were at the FDR Memorial, west of the Tidal Basin.
His family is left wondering whether safety changes could be made to prevent similar incidents. Authorities have not yet determined a cause of death.
Putta, whose parents are from the same part of India as Potharaju and who knows his extended family, said that Potharaju could not swim and that apparently no one saw him enter the water.
“You can’t get out of the basin without help, and if you can’t swim, there’s no chance,” Putta said. The 106-acre basin averages 10 feet deep.
Police viewed surveillance video showing Potharaju walking in the area about the time his family went to the restrooms, Putta said.
He disappeared on a cold, rainy Sunday before cherry blossoms were in bloom and crowds swarmed the area. “It’s really surprising that no one would have seen or heard him,” Putta said. “But it might have been bad weather, so there may not have been a lot of people around. It wasn’t anything like today with the crowds.”