MEDFORD — When Apurba Devkota started high school here two years ago, he didn’t know a soul. He had grown up in Nepal and moved to the United States when he was 16, shy, scared, and homesick.
The transition to Medford High School wasn’t easy. But he did well in class and in time he made friends, and before long a happy teenage life took shape, his sister said. He excelled in the classroom, waited tables at an Indian restaurant in Arlington, played soccer with his friends on the weekends.
He was always smart and funny, but in his senior year, he came into his own, she said. He thought about attending college in Florida, but his mother and two older sisters convinced him to stay close to home.
“We begged him to stay,” Asmita Devkota, 25, said through tears. “He couldn’t wait to go to college. He’d say ‘I’m going to make you all proud.’ ”
He was bound for the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and on Monday night Apurba Devkota and some friends gathered at Mystic Lake to celebrate their last summer before heading away to school.
“He just told me he was going to a party to hang out with his friends, and I thought it would be a barbecue or something,” his sister said in an interview at her home Tuesday. “I didn’t know it would be a lake.”
In what authorities described as a terrible accident, Devkota drowned Monday evening near the Tufts University sailing pavilion on Upper Mystic Lake, a few weeks shy of his 19th birthday.
Investigators said it appeared the teenager could not swim and fell beneath the surface soon after he entered the lake. Divers found him in about 20 feet of water.
He was taken to Massachusetts General Hospital, while police officers went to his family’s Medford home to break the news. They rushed to the hospital, but Devkota died before they arrived, his sister said.
“It’s like a bad dream, and I can’t wake up,” she said. “I wish I could go back in time and tell him not to go — not to go into the lake.”
Just a few weeks ago, she drove her brother to his college orientation. He had planned to study math and biology in hopes of becoming an aeronautical engineer.
On his student web page at Medford High, Devkota said he enjoyed playing video games — especially “FIFA” and “Call of Duty” — and loved Korean food.
The family emigrated from Nepal, where life wasn’t easy and they sometimes went without electricity for many hours, Asmita Devkota said. She and her mother came to the United States first, and later brought her brother and their middle sister, now 21. “We came here for a better life, hoping things could be easier, and then this happens,” she said.
In Nepal, Devkota took her brother to school on her scooter, which he loved. He would miss the bus on purpose, she said, so he could ride with her.
“He would just get on the backseat and hold onto my waist,” she said.
This year, Devkota made a New Year’s resolution to get in top shape, even get six-pack abs. Her brother took it as a challenge, saying he could get a six-pack faster.
“Then all of a sudden he started working out and drinking protein shakes, and he had all these muscles,” she recalled with a laugh. “I don’t even know what muscles he had. There was one week where he walked shirtless and he was like ‘I have abs. I don’t need a shirt.’”
Maurice Edouard-Vincent, superintendent of the Medford public schools, described Apurba Devkota as a “well-respected young man who excelled academically and socially,” and expressed her condolences to his friends and family.
Counselors were on hand at the high school Tuesday and will return Wednesday.
The family’s landlord, Louis Sasso, said Devkota’s death was a “awful thing.”
“He took care of his family . . . just a great kid,” Sasso said. “I was sitting upstairs listening to the radio, and I heard about a drowning in Upper Mystic Lake. I never in a million years thought it was him.”
Asmita Devkota said her brother will be dearly missed.
“He’s gone now, but he’ll always be in my heart — always be my little baby brother.”