In August 2008, a group of friends were walking through the Inner Harbor early in the morning when they heard a scream and a splash. When they turned around, 22-year-old Ankush Gupta was gone.
No one saw what happened, nor could the harbor's network of security cameras provide an account. With no evidence of trauma to the body, the only conclusive information investigators had about the Montgomery County man's death was that he had drowned.
On Tuesday, city homicide detectives arrested a 20-year-old Curtis Bay man who confessed to pushing Gupta into the water. Police say Wayne Black, who visited the harbor to skateboard, had approached Gupta and asked for a cigarette, then shoved him.
The case sat dormant for nearly two years due to a lack of information. But police received a tip in July that Black had been involved in the death, sources said, sparking a new investigation.
"We are so happy today," sister Rajni Gupta, 28, said of the arrest. "My brother was everything to our family."
Black was 18 at the time of the incident, and his lone arrest was for a marijuana possession charge in 2008 in Anne Arundel County, for which he received probation before judgment. No one answered the door at his home in the 600 block of Pontiac Street last night, though a neighbor said she saw police taking "a younger guy" away around 4 p.m.
Word of the arrest came days after an officer assigned to the Inner Harbor was fired for berating skateboarders, and the city police union, which has vowed to appeal the decision, seized on the arrest as proof that tough policing is needed there.
"This is a perfect example of why we need officers down there who aren't afraid to enforce the laws," said Robert F. Cherry, president of the Fraternal Order of Police lodge. "Good police work involves being proactive on the smaller level as well, and the business community has said it had an issue with skateboarders who trespass and deface property. … Lo and behold, three years later the homicide unit locks up a skateboarder."
Gupta, who lived in Boyds, near Germantown, was days away from beginning his junior year at the University of Maryland, College Park on an electrical engineering scholarship. Rajni Gupta said her brother had "big dreams" and hoped to someday work at NASA.
Gupta was with a group of friends who were travelling back from a day trip to New York City and decided to stop at the harbor at about 1:30 a.m. Aug. 27. Some stayed in the car; others got out and sat down on a bench. Gupta said he was going to take a walk, and minutes later his friends heard a scream and a splash from his direction.
A friend, who did not want to be identified because he is a witness in the case, told The Sun that he ran toward the sounds and saw an unknown man in a white shirt running from the area in front of the Light Street pavilion. Though people were still milling about the area, no one said they had seen anything.
After searching, Gupta's friends reported him missing at 2 a.m., and city Fire Department divers found the body at about 3:20 a.m. Without any information, police labeled the death "suspicious." Gupta's friend said he had concerns.
"The way the guy took off" raised concerns that Gupta had been pushed, the friend said Tuesday. "They found [Gupta's] body at the same location where he ran from. That made me believe it wasn't an accident, but that he was murdered."
Rajni Gupta said a group of skateboarders who were seen at the scene by her brother's friends did not tell anyone what had happened. She said they "should be in jail, too."
A handful of bodies are recovered from the harbor each year, and they often present a mystery to police. Months after Gupta died, five bodies were pulled from the harbor between January and May 2009 alone, and little is known about their deaths.
Anthony Guglielmi, a police spokesman, said that Maj. Terrence P. McLarney, the commander of the homicide unit, conducted a review of recent harbor deaths along with the medical examiner after the new information in Gupta's death surfaced.
Guglielmi said that no pattern was uncovered and that nothing popped up as being possibly suspicious.
Sun reporter Jessica Anderson contributed to this article.