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Family of Oak Lawn man puzzled by drowning

Relatives did not know Alpha Sabbithi frequented Maple Lake Forest Preserve

By Laura Bollin

Relatives of an Oak Lawn man who drowned in Maple Lake say he was an active, happy young man who loved music and was very focused on becoming a Lutheran minister.

They were, however, unaware Alpha Sabbithi, 28, frequented Maple Lake Forest preserve, and thought that during his brief forays away from home he was merely walking around their neighborhood. Sabbithi had also not been himself since returning from a religious retreat at a Michigan monastery, according to his younger brother, Victor.

Sabbithi’s family members last saw him the night of Aug. 17 when he told them he was going for a walk. Victor reporter Alpha missing at 2:23 a.m. last Saturday, and police found his car parked outside the gated entrance to Maple Lake, near 95th Street and Wolf Road in unincorporated Palos Township. A fisherman spotted Sabbithi’s body in the water at 8:40 a.m. Tuesday and notified Cook County forest preserve district police, who had been searching the area by boat and helicopter and in all-terrain vehicles since Monday. Police found Sabbithi’s body in 15 feet of water a few feet from the shore, said Oak Lawn police Division Chief Mike Kaufmann.

“We were watching a movie, and then I went to my room, and he went for a walk,” Victor said. “He was usually only gone for an hour, and he would always call or text to let people know where he was.”

The Cook County medical examiner’s office has ruled Sabbithi drowned, but the means of his drowning is undetermined. Authorities cannot yet conclude that Sabbithi committed suicide.

Sabbithi enjoyed exercising and would frequently go for walks in his Oak Lawn neighborhood, Victor said. Sabbithi was in his second year of seminary at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago.

“He was a really lively person and was really into martial arts,” Victor said.

Sabbithi was musically inclined and played guitar, piano and sang, his brother said. He built his own, sometimes out of pipes, like members of Blue Man Group, Victor added.

Sabbithi’s cell phone, keys and a brace he had been wearing because of a recent karate injury were found in his locked car, and the vehicle showed no evidence that it was taken in a carjacking, Kaufmann said. Police also found in the car a bottle of painkillers Sabbithi had been prescribed because of the injury. Police have no way of knowing if he ingested any of the pills in an attempt to sedate himself, Kauffman said.

Exercise was a regular part of Sabbithi’s life since the family moved to from India to Oak Lawn in 2000, when their father got a job as a chaplain at Advocate Christ Medical Center, Victor said. Cook County Forest Preserve employees told Sabbithi’s family they had seen Alpha at Maple Lake before, but Victor believed Sabbithi was not a “forest-type” of person and would not have spent much time there.

Bloodhounds from the Joliet Police Department tracked Sabbithi’s scent to the woods near Maple Lake, but lost it.

“I don’t think he walked into the woods, I think he walked from the car straight into the lake,” Victor said.

Sabbithi’s parents told police he had been depressed lately, and Victor said Alpha “had not been himself” since he returned from a personal retreat at a monastery in Oxford,Mich.

“He went to the monastery for two weeks, and when he came back, he was a little dull,” Victor said. “I tried to ask him about it, but he just said he liked it, and that was it. He would go for walks at night, but he never went very far. “