2002-03-30 / Community

Suicide With Religious Implications From Addabbo Bridge

Special From the Queens Chronicle
By Kathy Lewis

Special From the Queens Chronicle

For a number of years, members of the Queens Indo-Caribbean community who practice Hinduism have been creating a makeshift worship area on the beach beneath and around the southern foot of the bridge which links Howard Beach and the island of Broad Channel.

The Joseph Addabbo Bridge, which crosses Jamaica Bay, is the place where Sattie (Ann) Narain, a Guyanese immigrant, came each Sunday to pray for her son during the three years he was being treated for cancer. She sought solace in prayer there after her only child, Kevin Chetram, died of his illness on January 23rd. He would have been six years old the day after his funeral.

Last Thursday, Sattie, 35, paid a cab driver $15 for the ride from her Springfield Gardens home to the foot of the bridge in Howard Beach. She left a note to her family that read: "I'm going to Kevin. Pick me up at Cross Bay." Sattie¹s family has not seen or heard from her since.

Her mother, Bulmassie Narain, has not given up hope that her daughter, whom she calls Ann, is still alive, even though Sattie's shoes and neatly folded sweater were left on the highest point of the Addabbo Bridge¹s pedestrian walk last Thursday morning.

"Our whole family has been going to the beach each day looking for her," Bulmassie said. "Boats, divers and helicopters have been searching for Ann each day." The woman has not yet been found.

Her husband, Mahendra Chetram, said that Police Department dogs were used to sniff the area where Sattie¹s shoes were found. "They didn¹t find a trail leading away from that spot. But why hasn't her body been found?"

Sattie had watched Kevin go through a grueling sequence of treatments that had the two going from Long Island Jewish Medical Center, to North Shore Hospital and eventually to Sloan Kettering before the boy died of an inoperable tumor.

"We used to go to the Cross Bay Boulevard bridge every Sunday to beg for help for Kevin," Bulmassie said. Pundit (priest) Chandrica Persaud of Richmond Hill said that many Hindus of Caribbean descent go to Queens beaches, especially in the Rockaways, to worship the deity Ganga Mata (Mother Ganges). "We believe that through running water there is purity, sacredness and holiness."

After the death of her son, Sattie continued to travel to the Jamaica Bay beach that is sheltered by the southern foot of the Addabbo Bridge. "When there is a death, we believe that by the tenth day after death the person¹s soul is with the water deity," Pundit Persaud said. "We make an offering of pinda, rice and milk, for the redemption of the person¹s  soul.It is a symbol of charity given on behalf of the soul."

Last Thursday, Sattie called the car service she had used to get to hospitals and treatment centers throughout her son¹s illness. She arrived at the Addabbo Bridge shortly after 9 a.m. It was not until two hours later that Sattie¹s father discovered she was missing. He found the note she had left and called 911.

Bulmassie, who was at work in Manhattan, was frantic when her husband called her crying. "Sattie never left the house. She was not supposed to go somewhere alone. Before we found the note, we thought she might have gone to Kevin¹s school and sent someone to look there."

Sattie¹s sister, Indrani, said the note asked her family to thank Kevin's teachers and the social workers who had helped her throughout his illness and after his death. Before leaving her home last Thursday, Sattie emptied her wallet of credit cards and family photos, including those of Kevin. She took her wallet with her.

Officers from the 113th Precinct responded to the 911 call and were able to trace Sattie¹s trip to the Addabbo Bridge by contacting the cab company.

At the bridge, officers from the 106th Precinct in Ozone Park and the 100th Precinct in Rockaway joined in the search for Sattie.

The Queens Task Force was implemented using federal Parks Police from Gateway National Recreation Area, which includes Jamaica Bay. JFK Airport was shut down several times as helicopters searched the area. NYPD boats patrolled the water near where Sattie¹s shoes and sweater were found.

An officer at the scene said that the shoes, left at the highest point of the bridge, were directly above a channel, the deepest part of the bay. The day was windy and the water was choppy and cold. Officers speculated that, if Sattie, who was 5 feet 1 inch tall and only weighed 95 pounds, had jumped from the bridge, she may have drifted toward Charles Park in Howard Beach or Bergen Basin adjacent to the airport. Police were stationed there throughout the search last Thursday.

Official police reports indicate that Sattie was in a poor mental condition that day.

"Ann hadn't shown her grief in March," Bulmassie said. "She was depressed, but not showing it. She still cooked and cleaned every day and would go out with her sisters."

Mahendra said that his wife had seemed to be getting better and that she hadn¹t seemed as depressed in the past few weeks. On Wednesday, he had just received a letter from Sattie's social worker with directions to a support group for parents who had lost a child to cancer.

The beach where Sattie prayed is still littered with hundreds of religious artifacts that have been soaked by high tide.

Pundit Persaud said the many-colored fabrics (jhandi) are symbols of gods.

Different colors represent different gods. "When we worship, we invoke a god to appear."

Small clay dishes (deeyas) are filled with oil and a wick. "Light is a symbol of our adoration of god," Pundit Persaud said. "We pass the light over the water to shed light on our souls."

The many empty coconut shells strewn across the beach indicate that women have been there praying. Coconut is an offering made to the gods when a woman wishes to have a child.

Sattie's family had gone to the water at Beach 73rd Street in Rockaway after Kevin's funeral. They distributed his ashes there. South Queens is home to a growing population of people of Indo-Caribbean descent. They moved here from Trinidad, Tobago and Guyana. They were brought there from India in the 1800s as indentured servants to work on the plantations of the British colonies.

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