Missing Man's Drowning 'A Mystery' To His Family
A grieving family is left with more questions than answers about missing loved one, specifically why he would uncharacteristically leave the house in the late evening and go to a forest preserve.
Alpha Sabbithi wasn’t the type of person who would cause his family to worry. So when the 27-year-old seminary student didn’t answer his cell phone after announcing he was going for a walk late Saturday evening, his family knew something was terribly wrong.
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“He always answers his phone,” Victor Sabbithi, 25, said of his brother. “If he doesn’t answer he calls back within the hour. He never stays out past 10:30 or 11 o’clock. He doesn’t party. Even if he’s at a concert he usually calls back or texts.”
Reported missing by his family early Sunday morning, Alpha’s body was found in Maple Lake after a two-day search through the Cook County Forest Preserve.
The Cook County Medical Examiner’s office confirmed Wednesday that the body of a male found seven feet offshore in Maple Lake was that of Alpha Sabbithi. An autopsy attributed the cause of death to drowning “in a manner undetermined.”
“Until (Tuesday) morning we were all thinking that maybe he just left everything and would call us a day or two later,” Victor said. “We thought someone forced him to leave everything and go with them, or that he was walking around the forest preserve living with nature.”
The close-knit family who immigrated from India and settled in Oak Lawn in 2000, was planning a prayer meeting to celebrate Alpha’s 28th birthday on Aug. 20.
Alpha was also scheduled to start a new job on the same day at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago, where he was a graduate student.
Since his older brother returned from a two-week retreat at St. Augustine Monastery in Oxford, MI, Alpha wasn’t himself, Victor said.
“I wouldn’t use the word ‘depressed,’” Victor continued. “He was a little dull. He wasn’t as active as he used to be.”
On Saturday evening, the brothers finished watching a movie at home with a friend. When the movie ended around 9:30 p.m., Victor went to his room. His brother announced that he was going out for a walk.
“I thought he was coming to his senses again,” Victor said. “He was kind of dull and sitting around since he came back from the monastery.”
Around 11:30 p.m., Victor said his mother called from work to check on the family.
“She likes to find out where everybody is,” Victor said. “She usually calls to make sure everyone else is at home.”
It was then that he noticed his older brother’s car was gone. Victor began driving around to all the places he could think of where his brother might be.
“We were calling (Alpha) from 11:30 to 2 a.m. Everybody was calling, my mom, my dad,” Victor said. “That’s when I told my sister that we should call the police. We thought he had fallen asleep or went to a 24-hour gym. That made sense to me.”
Around 1:30 a.m., forest preserve police ticketed Alpha Sabbithi’s Toyota Corolla for being parked in front of the locked gate at the entrance to the Maple Lake Forest Preserve in Palos Park.
The family filed a missing person report with the Oak Lawn Police Department aound 2:30 a.m. Later Sunday morning, police found Sabbithi’s car with his phone, keys and wallet locked inside.
Forest preserve police searched the dense woods on all-terrain vehicles the rest of the day Sunday. A Joliet police bloodhound tracked the missing man’s scent to the boat launch at the Saganashkee Slough at 107th Street and 104th Avenue, but the scent stopped there.
Family members had gone to the forest preserve to help search for Alpha, but police did not want multiple scents confusing the tracking dog.
The search continued Monday, a helicopter searching by air, and police searching the waters of Maple Lake by boat. Members of the family’s home church—Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Oak Lawn – spent Monday waiting for word with Alpha’s worried family.
Victor Sabbithi was on his way to the Oak Lawn police station to pick up Alpha's belongings when he learned from a detective that his brother’s body had been pulled from Maple Lake Tuesday morning.
A man, who happened to be a retired police detective and was fishing on the lake, saw the body in the water and called police, Victor said.
Knowing the type of person that Alpha was, his family is left with more questions than answers of what compelled him to uncharacteristically leave the house so late in the evening and go for a walk in a forest preserve.
Victor said his older brother was very organized—almost “OCD”—who exercised regularly and didn’t drink sugary soda or alcohol. Alpha Sabbithi was a regular participant in campus activities at the Lutheran seminary, and attended several churches in addition to the family’s home church.
He was the kind of person who if he got a splinter or a cut, he'd be getting out the First-Aid kit, Victor Sabbithi added.
“That’s the biggest mystery,” Victor said. “He’s not like that. He likes animals but he doesn’t go to the woods. I never heard of him going to the forest preserves except once or twice during the daytime.”
While there is some resolution in finding his brother’s body, Victor wonders if he could have done more.
“A lot of things are going through my mind,” Victor said. “I feel like I should have asked where he was going. We’re just trying to stay strong. There’s only so much we can do to cope.”
Alpha Sabbithi's body will lie in state from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Friday, August 24, at the Lutheran School of Theology at 1100 E. 55th St. in Chicago. Funeral services will be held from 9 to 11 a.m. Saturday, August 25, at Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, at 9701 S. Brandt Ave.
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