State News

Vigil Honors Slain Duke Graduate Student

Posted March 24, 2008 5:45 a.m. EDT
Updated March 24, 2008 11:20 p.m. EDT

— Friends of Duke graduate student Abijhit Mahato want to make sure he is not forgotten. They gathered Monday night to remember his 29 years of life and to raise awareness of violence in the community.

Groups working to end violence in Durham organized the vigil, which was held outside the Anderson Street Apartments, where Mahato's body was found Jan 18.

The vigil was coordinated by the Religious Coalition for a Nonviolent Durham, Parents of Murdered Children and Durham Congregations in Action.

"Always laughing, always ready to help people. Taking life as it comes,” Tanmay Patni said as he remembered his former roommate at the memorial service.

"He wanted to do everything in life. He wanted to try everything in life. He wanted to go to Europe and see the US," he added.

Mahato, who was from Tatangar, India, was studying for an engineering doctoral degree in computational mechanics at Duke's Pratt School of Engineering.

"We were very lucky. I was very lucky to convince him to come to Duke and study for his PhD,” said Tod Lursen, Mahato's former PhD Adviser.

Lursen said Mahato's work ethic matched his brilliance.

"One of my students was fond of saying, that he'd never seen anybody who worked 80 hours a week, who was that happy about it all the time,” he said.

Mahato was shot at point-blank range in the forehead as a pillow was held tightly against his face, according to an autopsy report. His wallet, cell phone and iPod were stolen, police said.

Stephen Lavance Oates Jr., 19, and Laurence Alvin Lovette Jr., 17, both of Durham, have been charged with murder and robbery in Mahato's death.

Oates was arrested in January after a high-speed police chase. He faces charges in at least 15 other armed robberies, a shooting and an assault.

Lovette and Demario James Atwater, 21, of Durham, are also charged with the March 5 shooting death of UNC Student Body President Eve Carson.

Police said they found Mahato's cell phone and iPod on Lovette when they arrested him for Carson's slaying. Investigators traced numbers dialed from that cell phone to Oates.

The deaths of the college students have sparked a discussion about gang violence, although police have denied that the killings were gang-related.

At Lovette's March 14 court hearing, Durham County District Judge Craig Brown said he was "sending an SOS to Raleigh," calling for a special session of the Legislature to deal with gang violence.

Both Atwater and Lovette had committed probation violations when Mahato and Carson were killed.