Student's life of promise cut short

Friends, family recall slain student


Published: Sunday, January 11, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 11, 2004 at 2:46 a.m.
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Indian graduate assistant Sudheer Reddy Satti is shown relaxing at a gathering of friends recently.

Special to The Sun
With the start of the new year, friends knew they would have to say good-bye to Indian graduate assistant Sudheer Reddy Satti.
The 24-year-old civil engineering doctoral student had been thinking for weeks about his future and whether he would remain at the University of Florida, friends said. In the end, he decided to leave Gainesville, his home since moving to America in 2000. His aim was to pursue a doctorate at the University of New Hampshire, the same university where his former professor from UF was now teaching.
But Satti's friends never got the chance to host the send-off party they wanted to throw for him. The last time any of them saw him was late New Year's Eve after dropping him off at his Maguire Village apartment.
University Police discovered Satti's body inside the bedroom of his downstairs apartment on Jan. 4. He had been stabbed, according to investigators, in what has become the university's first murder case in at least 25 years.
Sources familiar with the case say initial reports describe Satti as being stabbed about 30 times. Wounds were found on his head and torso.
Satti was known among friends, co-workers and university employees as an intelligent, healthy, hardworking and kind man who adhered to his cultural and religious beliefs. Always smiling, people who knew him said, he would spend hours in the office but still took time to make friends, hang out with them, watch movies and attend college football games. He kept in regular contact with his parents and younger brother back home in southeastern India as well as with his friends. Often fellow students knew his coming and goings because he had no car and they would give him rides.
As one friend said, Satti was a predictable person regarding his comings and goings. And he wasn't someone his friends expected would find himself in the thick of trouble.
At first, not being able to reach Satti for a few days didn't raise eyebrows, said Lewis Bryant, a friend of Satti's now working in Ocala. He wasn't the type of person anyone thought anything bad would happen to. Failed attempts to reach him were easily rationalized with explanations that he was busy and making preparations to leave town. He was scheduled to arrive in New Hampshire on Jan. 9.
Still, it was Satti's usual reliability that Bryant said set off alarms and finally prompted friends to ask officials to check his apartment.
"In essence, they were checking on him because of the party," Bryant said, the goodbye gathering friends wanted to hold for Satti the weekend before he was set to leave. But, he added, "Usually he would be in the office. Usually he would call. His life was work and school and the clique that he hung around with."
Satti's brother, Harish Satti, who lives in India said the family expected him to phone for New Year's but he didn't. The last time they spoke with him was on Dec. 28.
An assistant professor said he talked on the phone with Satti, who was then at his office, on Dec. 31.
Time for work, play Satti worked in Weil Hall in a fifth-floor office, one he shared with a half dozen or so graduate students. He laid claim to a corner desk next to the window.
The computer keyboard and computer processing unit are now gone, taken by officers as part of the murder investigation.
"We're trying to learn as much about the victim as we can," including who he was talking to, said University Police Lt. Joe Sharkey.
Among the few items left on Satti's desk late last week were a cobalt blue coffee mug embossed with the words "University of Florida Career Research Center" in gold letters.
Satti loved to make Red Label Tea laced with the Indian spice Masala, friends said. He also made coffee quite frequently, announcing to others when there was a fresh pot.
Like many people who work in offices, Satti had positioned a few figurines on the top of his computer monitor. A flat, plastic green skull and cross bones about the size of a half dollar was affixed to the screen. One friend said the item might have been a children's Halloween trinket a professor had handed out one year to students including Satti.
Those Satti worked with are mostly international students, who formed a tight-knit group, said Donna Rowland, a fiscal assistant in the College of Civil and Coastal Engineering.
Since many of them are far away from home, she said, the students get together for picnics, holidays and other events.
In November 2002, Rowland said she hosted Thanksgiving dinner for a couple dozen engineering students at her home in Brooker.
"That's Sudheer frying his first turkey," said Rowland pointing to a photo of Satti pulling a tanned bird from a vat of cooking oil.
Friends said Satti had other firsts in the United States, including attending football games, tailgating, riding a roller coaster at Busch Gardens and getting his driver's license.
Rowland has other photos of Satti laughing and playing lawn bocce ball with his friends and gathered with them in a tent. She said Satti learned to play badminton, too.
"These kids don't have a lot of the games we have here," Rowland said. "These kids are my kids."
Like many of the other students, Satti spent about 12 hours a day at UF - including weekends, Rowland said.
According to his UF employment record obtained by The Sun, he earned a little over $17,000 last year as a graduate research assistant in his college. He also worked periodically with the College of Design, Construction and Planning on specialty software and Web-based applications, earning additional compensation.
Satti's commitment to school and work didn't mean he wouldn't take a break to play a game of pretend golf, batting golf balls across the hall, friends said.
"We would be hard at work in the office, but he would goof around with you," Bryant said.
"He had headphones, and he would listen to Indian music. He would sing along with it. I guess he didn't realize we could hear him."
And in spite of the long hours, Rowland said he was the kind of person who never had a bad day.
"He was a sweet, kind, loving, helpful young man," she said.
Brent Whitfield, who met Satti when he started graduate school in 2001, said, "He was always there to help people, I think probably to a fault. He would take a day off his project and help you because he knew you didn't know what you were doing. He was also a modest guy, despite the fact that he was easily the smartest kid in there."
A life of two cultures Satti lived in an off-campus apartment on SW 16th Avenue with a roommate before moving into Maguire Village, Building 382, #7, friends said and records show. He had lived on-campus since May, said Sharon Blansett, assistant director for UF's Department of Housing.
Satti's apartment has not been re-rented and likely will be tied up with the murder investigation through the spring semester, she said.
Satti was in the country on an F-1 Visa issued in June 2000, shortly after he graduated with a bachelor's degree from Vasavi College of Engineering in India. He had attended the public school system in Hyderabad, India, before going on to Shoba Rani Junior College where he studied math, physics and chemistry, according to his employment application filed at UF.
As part of his employment at UF, Satti was required to maintain a 3.0 or better grade-point average.
Harish, 20, said his brother had job offers in India that he and his family felt didn't "match his caliber" so he went to pursue a higher education in America. After school, he said his brother had thought about different careers, including one in academics. Bryant, now at a civil engineering firm in Ocala, said he had hoped to convince Satti to work with him.
People who knew Satti said, while he enjoyed the pastimes in this country and hung out with both American as well as international students, he remained very traditional and religious.
A Hindu, he didn't drink alcohol. At tailgate parties, they said, he would be the one drinking a soda.
"I never heard him say a cuss word. I never heard of him going out and carousing," Bryant said.
He didn't date to their knowledge, some friends said. They believed it was because, for now, he was intent on school and work and eventually planned to have an arranged marriage.
Satti's brother said marriage was a way off.
"He would later get married. He was focused on education," he said.
"He was always planning to come back to India," his brother said.
Satti's family last saw him when he visited India in July 2002.
His only brother and parents live in Hyderabad, the capital of the southeastern state Andhra Pradesh and the fifth largest city in the country. The two brothers shared a room at the family's home.
Harish Satti said the family initially planned to have his brother's body brought back to India.
"We have a lot of hopes we could see his face for the last time," he said. But that may not be possible because he said officials told the family his face had been damaged. Now, he said, the family may ask that last rites be performed in America and that his ashes be brought home.
The family also is hoping that the university will establish a memorial in honor of Satti, he said.
Some students hope to organize a memorial service for him this week.
As to who and why someone would kill his brother, Harish Satti said he suspects that it was a person who knew him and then possibly took items from the apartment.
Police have said some electronic equipment is missing from the apartment including a stereo, home theater audio system, a speakerphone, a cordless phone and VCR and DVD player, although it may have been sold to someone or shipped to New Hampshire because Satti was moving.
"I think that it's someone who my brother knew well and who took things away," said Harish Satti, noting that police said there was no forced entry into the home.
Some people who knew Satti at UF said friends have been questioned by police, who also have asked for polygraphs and DNA samples. But none willing to talk about Satti and the case said they could imagine anyone who would hurt him or why.
Harish Satti said the murder may even have been planned since it occurred when many people had left UF for the holidays.
He couldn't think of a motive for the murder, except he said perhaps because of professional jealousy over his achievements in school and work.
"There's no other option," Harish Satti said. "He's not a guy who takes troubles to anyone. He's not into any bad habits."
Anyone with information about the case is asked to call the UF Police Department at (352) 392-1111.
Lise Fisher can be reached at 374-5092 or fisherl@ gvillesun.com. Janine Young Sikes can be reached at 337-0327 or sikesj@ gvillesun.com.

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