Friends and professors are mourning the deaths of two LSU graduate students who mysteriously drowned in a Tigerland-area pool over the weekend.
Few new details emerged Monday about what led to the drownings of Ishita Maity, 28, and Anton Joe, 25, who friends have described as extremely intelligent and impressive students. Maity was believed to have known how to swim, one friend says.
Maity and Joe were found at 1 a.m. Sunday by a Baton Rouge police officer who pulled them out of the pool at Cambridge West Apartments on Bob Petit Boulevard.
EMS paramedics were able to regain pulses on both students on scene and en route to the hospital, but the two later died Sunday afternoon at the hospital, EMS spokesman Mike Chustz said.
Autopsies conducted Monday revealed the cause of death was accidental drowning for both students, parish Coroner Dr. Beau Clark said. Toxicology results that could detect drugs or alcohol in their systems will not be available for several weeks.
Baton Rouge police spokesman Cpl. Don Coppola Jr. has said there was no evidence of foul play, but he could not provide any additional details about what may have led to the drownings. It also was unclear whether the two were wearing regular clothes or were in swimwear.
Police said the pool was closed at the time and a gate to get into it was locked. The two apparently got inside by climbing over a fence around the pool.
The Cambridge West apartment building is one of three Cambridge properties on Bob Pettit Boulevard off Nicholson Drive. Joe lived in that building, and Maity lived at another Cambridge apartment building at 1221 Bob Pettit Blvd.
Both students were graduate students in the Department of Physics and Astronomy. Joe was a third-year graduate student studying theoretical gravity and was a student worker. Maity was a second-year graduate student studying theoretical astrophysics. They were both pursuing their doctorate degrees.
The two students are both from India. Their families could not be reached Monday for comment.
Alison Dreyfus, who was in the physics program with both students, described Maity as sharp and reserved and Joe as stunningly intelligent.
Dreyfus said she was closer to Maity because they started the program at the same time.
“She was reserved, but she had this under the surface, simmering cleverness,” Dreyfus said.
One of her favorite stories about Maity is about the first time her classmates got together for a barbecue at her house. Maity, being from India, wasn’t familiar with what to bring.
“She asked me beforehand what kind of things one brings to a barbecue and I started with a bag of chips or a macaroni salad,” Dreyfus said. “Well, she brought a frozen lasagna and a frozen pizza.”
Dreyfus said she was not as close to Joe, but his reputation as one of the program’s brightest students was well known.
“Inarguably, people here considered him to be one of the brightest and most talented students,” she said. She said his field of study, theoretical quantum gravity, is a “very different and young field.”
“I had the feeling that this was a guy who is going to be an expert in this field and make a big difference in this field,” she said. “He was a really impressive person doing really impressive things.”
Dreyfus said students in the program are baffled by the deaths and anxious for more details about what could have led to the drownings. She said she believed Maity knew how to swim because she remembers her going to the beach. But she said she didn’t know whether Joe could swim.
The physics and astronomy department announced Monday it will offer grievance counseling for students.
“We are deeply saddened to learn of the unfortunate and tragic accident involving Anton and Ishita,” Michael Cherry, chairman of the LSU Department of Physics and Astronomy, said in a statement released Monday. “We would like to extend our condolences to Anton and Ishita’s family, friends and colleagues. Our thoughts and sympathies are with them during this time.”
Memorial websites were set up Monday for both students where friends and colleagues left messages remembering the two.
“(Ishita) was eager to learn and asked challenging questions in class, always in a sweet and musical voice and with a respectful disposition, but she was not easily placated until she was satisfied with my answers,” Juhan Frank, Maity’s doctoral professor, says on the website. “I am deeply saddened by this loss. We gathered today in the usual class time to talk about her and to remember her. Her classmates and I will miss her. Dear Ishita, may you rest in peace.”
Several people remembered Joe as being extremely smart. A few people referred to him on his memorial site as a genius.
“One of the most friendly, caring and helpful seniors that I have met in college,” Karthik Dinne said on the website. “Very soft spoken, extremely intelligent and humble. You are an inspiration. RIP Anton.”