‘We want to keep his memory alive,’ Varughese family mourn son with sense of peace


Mary Newman

Lovely Varughese, mother of Pravin Varughese, morns the death of her son, Friday, Feb. 16, 2018, in the woods near East Main Street and Giant City Road where her son was found dead in 2014. (Mary Newman | @MaryNewmanDE)

By Amelia Blakely and Kitt Fresa

Lovely and Mathew Varughese walked through dense woodland Friday, following the last steps their son Pravin took before he was found dead four years ago.

Community members also joined friends and family near Illinois Route 13, before beginning the walk to the site.

The family has made the same walk for the past three years and is something Pravin’s father said they will continue to do so indefinitely.


“We want to to keep his memory alive.” Mathew Varughese said. “His last days are memories there. We don’t know what was his last wish was.The last place, his last breath was over there.”

Since Pravin’s passing, Mathew said the family has not been the same.

“We are totally different people, we have a big hole in our heart,” Mathew Varughese said. “Our family has totally changed.”

Varughese’s body was first found by Carbondale Police on Feb. 18, 2014, after he was reported missing for five days.

Gaege Bethune, the last person to see Varughese alive, was indicted on July 13, 2017, for two counts of first-degree murder.

As previously reported by the Daily Egyptian, Pravin Varughese was last seen at a house party on the 400 block of W. College St.

Police officials said Varughese accepted a ride home from the party with a stranger, which was Bethune.


Bethune said in a recorded police interview that he hit Varughese in the face the night he died before Varughese ran into the woods, according to the Daily Egyptian’s previous reports.

A police dash cam shows Bethune walking out of the same woods that Varughese was found in the night he went missing.

In comparison to the past three years, Lovely Varughese said this year’s memorial service was performed with peace in their hearts because of Bethune’s indictment.

Mary Newman
A memorial for Pravin Varughese sits in the woods near East Main and Giant City Road Friday, Feb. 16, 2018, marking the area where Varughese was found dead in February of 2014. (Mary Newman | @MaryNewmanDE)

“Last year we did not have any kind of charge or indictment, so there was nobody responsible for Pravin’s death,” Lovely Varughese said. “In July there was an indictment and that gives us a lot of peace. My son did not do this to himself.”

According to Father Liju Paul, Varughese’s uncle and minister at his memorial, the Varughese family is Syrian Orthodox and go to the site where Varughese was found to pray for their departed loved one.

“Departed means the soul is still alive and they know what is going on,” Paul said. “So every year we’re praying for them, they’re still with us.”

Following the memorial, the Varughese family awarded two Pravin Varughese Memorial Scholarships in Pravin’s memory to Allison Rath, a senior at West Frankfort High school and Kaleb Cronpton.

Pravin was a criminal justice student at SIU and one day aspired to work for the FBI.

Rath found out about the scholarship from her guidance counselor who knew she was majoring in criminal justice.

“I remember hearing about it then. I’ve actually been closely following Pravin’s case since then,” Rath said.“It’s a terrible thing that happened, it really is like something out of a movie.”

The other recipient of the scholarship is Kaleb Cronpton, a senior from Johnson City High School who says he’s extremely grateful for the opportunity.

“I told my story and future plans which is to go to John A. Logan College and then transfer to SIU and get a Bachelor’s in criminal justice, Cronpton said.” “My career objective is to end up with the State Police.”

Cronpton said once he achieves that he hopes to better his community through positive policing and giving back.

Mary Newman
From left: Preethi, Priya, Mathew and Lovely Varughese pray during Pravin Varughese’s memorial, Friday, Feb. 16, 2018, in the woods near East Main Street and Giant City Road where Pravin was found dead in 2014. (Mary Newman | @MaryNewmanDE)

Sheila Simon, former Lieutenant Governor and visiting Assistant Professor in the university’s law school, spoke when the scholarships were awarded and thanked the Varughese family for their commitment in finding justice for their son’s death.

“What a perfect way to express your commitment to justice, which will be able to promote two young people who are very passionate about justice,” Simon said.

Simon has been involved in Pravin Varughese’s case from the very beginning when she received a call from a mutual friend between her and the Varughese family when he was missing.

“To be able to follow the family through this process, through the questions, the anger, the despair to a point where now every year they’re making scholarships available to students from southern Illinois to study criminal justice,” Simon said. “They’re just an amazing family.”

Simon said although the reason for the family’s visit to Carbondale is not positive, they make the best of it.

“It gets more optimistic and forward-looking as we on, and that’s a pleasure to see,” Simon said. “It’s an odd way to stitch together a group of people, but it’s functional.”

Lovely Varughese said her son’s death shows when people come together and support each other, justice prevails.

“Two cultures came together,” Lovely Varughese said. “I hope it will go one and attract more people. Every human has to have that connection and spread the word of love and love each other.”

Throughout the past four years Lovely Varughese said the local and global community’s support has never faded.  

“I get messages from all over the world, from Australia and England,” Lovely Varughese said. “In India it’s big news all the time, it’s all over.”

Lovely Varughese said this year the family was able to tell Pravin Varughese that substantial progress had been made in answering the questions of his suspicious death.

“It’s him that pushed us,” Lovely Varughese said. “He wanted the truth to come out. He couldn’t rest without that.” 

Lovely Varughese said when the investigation into their sons death was stuck and authorities didn’t know where to look or what questions to ask, she believes her son’s soul was leading them to open doors.

“Another door opens. It was unbelievable how this journey was, how far we have come,” Lovely Varughese said. “Nothing is going to bring him back and my heart aches but his name goes on.”

Campus editor Amelia Blakely can be reached at [email protected] or Twitter @AmeilaBlakely.

To stay up to date with all your southern Illinois news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.

Staff writer Kitt Fresa can be reached at [email protected]

To stay up to date with all your southern Illinois news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.