They had spent the past five weeks searching for him, hoping against all hope that their beloved brother and son Sunil Tripathi was alive and well.
But on Thursday, Rhode Island police delivered the Tripathi family the terrible news: A body pulled from the Providence River earlier in the week was Sunil, the bright 22-year-old Brown University philosophy student who had been missing since March 15 and whose name had been wrongly linked to the Boston Marathon suspects one month later.
“The body was found; it was positively identified as the missing Brown student,’’ said Lindsay Lague, spokeswoman for the Providence Police Department. “There was no foul play suspected at this time.”
It was unclear how long his body had been in the water.
In a statement to the public, the heartbroken Tripathi family cited their “indescribable grief” and thanked those who had encouraged them, sent prayers, and joined the search to find Sunil.
“This last month has changed our lives forever, and we hope it will change yours, too,’’ the family wrote. “Take care of one another. Be gentle, be compassionate. Be open to letting someone in when it is you who is faltering. Lend your hand. We need it. The world needs it.”
Tripathi — a tall, lean young man from Radnor, Penn. — had enrolled at Brown University, following in the footsteps of his older sister and brother, the university and his family said.
He studied philosophy for three years and played saxophone in jazz bands before taking a leave of absence a year-and-a-half ago, his sister Sangeeta told reporters last month.
“He’s been struggling a little bit, really wanting to get his life back in order,” she told the Globe shortly after her brother’s disappearance.’’
Reached by e-mail Thursday, Sangeeta Tripathi referred the Globe to the family’s statement.
“Thanks for reaching out and sending your love,’’ she wrote in her e-mailed response signed by the Tripathi family.
In an interview with the Globe this week, she described her brother as quiet, brilliant, and kind. She said he excelled in school and was patient.
On Tuesday around 5:30 p.m., a Brown University rowing coach spotted the body off the graceful shores of India Point Park and called police, Lague said.
The Rhode Island medical examiner completed a forensic dental exam Thursday morning, and confirmed that the body was Tripathi’s, said Dara Chadwick, spokeswoman for the Rhode Island Department of Health.
An autopsy was conducted Wednesday, but the official cause of death will not be known for several months, said Chadwick.
Providence police said Thursday that Tripathi was seen on March 15, as a trace of snow covered the city. He apparently left his apartment off Angell Street at some point after that, apparently without much more than the clothes he was wearing: blue jeans, a black Eastern Mountain Sports jacket, thin black-rimmed glasses, and a Philadelphia Eagles cap.
Tripathi’s girlfriend, who found his cellphone, credit card, and other personal effects, reported him missing to police the next day.
A surveillance video released in March shows a man matching Tripathi’s description walking south on Brook Street near his apartment at 1:33 a.m. March 16, just 19 minutes after his last known computer activity, according to a statement from the family.
Family members were worried about his health and well-being.
“He was never clinically diagnosed [with depression],’’ Ravi Tripathi told Piers Morgan on CNN Wednesday night. “But we in the family knew he had problems with his mood.”
Police combed parks and wooded areas. Tripathi’s parents, siblings, and friends gathered in Providence to help and enlisted friends and relatives to keep Tripathi’s name in the news. They set up a Twitter account, made a video, and launched a Facebook page, “Help Us Find Sunil Tripathi.’’
After the FBI released pictures of the terrorism suspects in the April 15 Marathon bombings, people began posting on online sites such as Reddit and Twitter that one of them resembled Tripathi.
In the postings, users called Tripathi a terrorist and used other hateful language, further adding to the agony of his family who were desperate to find him.
“It was incredibly painful for our family,’’ Sangeeta Tripathi told Morgan. “This was coming at a time after 34 days of pain and worry for our family.”
Reddit’s general manager issued an apology for the bad information.
The family posted their YouTube video with the headline: “Sunil Tripathi: missing Brown student & NOT the Boston Marathon bombing suspect.”
In it, friends and family deliver a message to Tripathi, telling him how much they miss and love him. His sister held up a football jersey she got for him. An aunt said she could not wait to see him so they can get the spinach calzone he so liked.
Addressing the campus community, Brown University president Christina Paxson expressed sadness over news that Tripathi had been found dead.
“For more than a month our community has sought to support the Tripathi family in their courageous and tireless efforts to search for Sunil,’’ she wrote in a statement. “We extend our deepest condolences to Sunil’s family for their loss and for the immeasurable pain they have endured during this period.
In their statement, the family appealed for their privacy and urged the public to “exercise caution and treat human lives with delicacy.”
“As we carry indescribable grief, we also feel incredible gratitude,’’ the family wrote. “Your compassionate spirit is felt by Sunil and by all of us.”Yvonne Abraham of the Globe staff and Globe correspondent Gal Tziperman Lotan contributed to this report. Meghan Irons can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.