Posted on 10 November 2011.
The community gathers at the Sankar family home to remember Anil. [HAZEL SHEFFIELD/ The Bronx Ink
A stranger found the body of Anil Sankar on the boat launch at Concrete Plant Park around 6 a.m. on Sept. 12.
The 18-year-old’s face was torn open at the temple and bruised around his mouth. His nose was smashed in and his hands were scratched. One plastic sandal had been discarded on the bank and another floated in the shallow water, not far from where he lay.
On a grassy patch, a packet of Newport cigarettes, soggy with dew, had been ripped in half and thrown aside.
“They say he hit his head and drowned,” said his father, Teakaram Sankar, as the Sankar family, who moved to the Bronx from Guyana 17 years ago, gathered in their small Boynton Avenue living room for a vigil to remember Anil. Police have dismissed his son’s death as accidental. “But I figure that’s impossible.”
As they sat together, the Sankar family passed phone records and emails between them and tried to piece together what happened the night that Anil disappeared. His sister-in-law, Natasha Sankar, held up a phone log showing that hours before he died, Anil made an 80-minute call to the mother of his girlfriend. The young couple had fallen out, said his mother, Mohaine. She remembered telling Anil to pray at the family shrine that Sunday morning, while he worked on the music he made on their home computer. The whole family agreed that Anil was not apt to hang around the park alone at night.
The Sankars may never know the truth of what happened that Sunday evening. The detective assigned to the case said it is closed. But the surrounding community has rallied around their grief nonetheless – to share their sadness, to protest the lack of safety in Concrete Park, and to highlight growing violence among their youth.
“I hope all the young people in the community can look at this and see that violence is not the answer,” said Natasha as she addressed the assembled mourners in the park four weeks after his death.
Over a hundred concerned residents and friends of Anil walked from the Sankar home to Concrete Plant Park on Oct. 16, to show their support for the family and their concern for rising levels of violence among young people in the Bronx. Felony assaults are up 10 percent in the district from last year, an increase of 33 incidents. A local resident confirmed that since Anil’s death, another young boy has been mugged at gunpoint in broad daylight in the park.
As the vigil progressed, residents passed by an unsecured hydraulic pole that is supposed to stop vehicles from entering the park and through a gate that stays open all night. The path runs by the river on one side and open fences onto the Metro North lines on the other. Two expressways, an elevated train line and a residential road surround the area.
“It’s the perfect place to prey on women or children if you’re an opportunist,” said Ephrain Cruz of the community group Bronx For Change. “We need to highlight that this park is not secure.”
Concrete Plant Park opened on an old industrial site in 2009, after a 10-year funding battle to restore the land and return it to the community by faith-based community group Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice.
“That park was developed as a safe space for young people,” said Julian Terrell from Youth Ministries. “Putting up gates to prevent people from getting in sets the wrong precedent.”
On Sunday evening, as the trains rattled by, the Sankar family laid candles and incense above the jetty where Anil Sankar’s body was found. His sister Anita lit one of his favorite Newport cigarettes and tucked it behind a purple bottle of pina colada flavored drink. The crowd gathered with candles to hear stories about Sankar’s life from his friends. His family stood quietly, unable to speak.
Towards the end of the vigil, Bronx Assemblyman Marcus Crespo stood forward to talk about ending violence among young people in the Bronx.
“The answers don’t lie somewhere else,” Crespo said. “They lie right here with all of us. It’s about our respect for one another.”
When the meeting was over and the crowds dispersed, Ephrain Cruz said: “Crespo says the answers lie with us. But this park does not belong to us. It is looked after by the state.”
Back at the Sankars’ two-bedroom apartment, young children ran between a gilded Hindu shrine and display cabinets stuffed with family photos. Mohaine Sankar clutched at a tissue, holding it against the white t-shirt printed with a photo of her son.
Mohaine knew Anil had broken up with his girlfriend the day before he died. The Sunday he disappeared, she checked on him in the peach-coloured bedroom he shared with his twin sister, Kumarie, and their 15-year-old brother, Robin.
“He laid back on the bed with his arm above his head,” said Mohaine. “He was really worried about something.”
“The police don’t want us to call people and ask what happened,” said Anil’s sister-in-law Natasha. “They say for us to wait, but they’re not doing anything. We need to know.”