Nearly six months after a Maple Shade woman and her young son were found stabbed to death in their apartment, authorities Wednesday returned to the scene to scour the neighborhood for leads and offer a $25,000 reward to help break the case.
“Somebody out there has knowledge about these homicides,” Burlington County Prosecutor Scott Coffina said at a news conference. “The smallest detail could make a difference for us to make an arrest.”
Sasikala Narra, 38, and her son, Anish, 6, were found dead March 23 in their unit at the Fox Meadow Apartments along Route 73. Both had slash wounds to their necks. A possible motive has not been disclosed. Friends and family say nothing was taken from the apartment.
Hanumantha Rao Narra told dispatchers that he had discovered the bodies of his wife and son upon returning home from a work happy-hour party. “They both have blood everywhere,” Narra said. The bodies were in a bed, he told dispatchers, but he said he had no idea what had happened and he saw no weapons.
Narra, who goes by the nickname “Hanu,” did not attend Wednesday’s announcement. His attorney, Jack Venturi, said Narra had relocated and has a new job; he declined to say where his client resides.
Venturi said Narra has cooperated with authorities, providing interviews and turning over his cellphone and computer. He said that authorities have told his client he is not a suspect but that Narra believes there are those in the Indian community who are “looking at him like he had to have done it.”
“Everybody is suspiciously pointing fingers at him,” Venturi said from his New Brunswick, N.J., law office. “There’s absolute proof that he did not do it.”
On Wednesday, investigators set up a mobile command center in a parking lot in the apartment complex, which has 1,500 units. The center, staffed by detectives, will remain on site until Friday to encourage residents who may have information to come forward, the prosecutor said.
“I’m wondering what happened. It’s really taking too long,” said Moulay Alidriss, 35, a sales representative who lives in a unit behind the apartment where the killings occurred. “It’s too close for comfort.”
Teams of local and federal investigators canvassed the complex Wednesday, interviewing residents. Some residents welcomed their presence and expressed hope that an arrest would be made soon.
“I was hoping they would have solved it,” said Lisa Coto, 51, a nurse who moved to the complex about a month after the double homicide. “It’s very disturbing.”
Authorities also distributed reward fliers in English, Spanish, Hindi, and Telugu, the language native to the region in India from which the Narras hailed. The FBI, which has put up the reward money, assisted with locating interpreters to translate the flier. Authorities say they don’t believe the mother and son were targeted because of their Indian heritage.
The killings have garnered attention from the media in India and caused angst among an Indian community in the complex, residents say. There has been speculation that the investigation has hit a wall, but authorities said Wednesday it remains very active.
Burlco Prosecutor seeks public's help in March killing of Maple Shade woman and son. FBI is offering $25K reward pic.twitter.com/7xMfHifm83
— Melanie Burney (@MLBURNEY) September 6, 2017
People are frustrated that “we don’t know the motivation behind the murders,” said Mohan Nannapaneni, former president of the Telugu Association of North America, which often assists fellow Indian Americans during emergencies. “We are immigrants and look for some kind of safety” in this country.
Nannapaneni, who operates a software business in Boston, said his group helped Narra send the bodies of his wife and son back home to the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. He has known Narra for some years but has not spoken with him since the spring, he said.
The couple were married in 2004 in India, according to Nannapaneni. Both Narra and his wife worked at Cognizant, a technology services company. Neighbors said Sasikala Narra mostly worked from home.
Venturi, Narra’s attorney, said authorities returned his client’s passport and visa this week. While authorities had said Narra was free to go to India to attend the joint funeral for his wife and son, the lack of a passport meant he could not, Venturi said.
He said that authorities had not kept his client informed of the progress of their investigation, as crime victims usually are, and that Narra had offered to contribute to a reward.
Coffina confirmed that Narra has cooperated with investigators but in an interview said his office had not received such an offer related to the reward. He declined further comment.
What may have caused someone to target the mother and son remains unknown. In an interview on a YouTube channel shortly after the killings, Narra said police questioned where he had been that day and whether he had issues with neighbors or suspected anyone was responsible.
“This is my community. I won’t let it scare me,” said Mable Winfree, 73, a retired corporate security officer who has lived in the complex for 17 years. But, she added, “it still hurts.”
Authorities are urging anyone with information on the slayings to call Burlington County Central Communications at 609-265-7113 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.