July 6, 2011 in City

Three bodies found in submerged car

By The Spokesman-Review
Picture story: Bodies in river may be missing Bhutanese
Colin Mulvany photo

Spokane county sheriff dive team members, with the help of tow truck operators, recover a car from the Spokane River with three bodies inside Wednesday, July, 6, 2011. Spokane Police confirmed three bodies were found inside. They are believed to be three Bhutanese refugees missing for several weeks. Seventeen-year-old Krishna Dhakal, a student at Lewis & Clark High School, and Dilli Ram Bhattarai, 28, and 21-year-old Krishna L. Dhital, both of Tukwila, had been missing since June 11.
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Krishna Dhakal and his family braved death to flee from Bhutan to Nepal to escape harsh cultural persecution and human rights abuses. He spent most of his life in refugee camps in Nepal, and resettled in Spokane two years ago seeking a better life.

Tragically, Dhakal, 17, likely died in the cold Spokane River, along with two life-long friends.

Spokane police removed a car from the Spokane River near Mission Park this evening, along with bodies believed to be those of three Bhutanese refugees missing since June 11. However, the bodies have not yet been officially identified.

Dhakal, of Spokane, 28-year-old Dilli Ram Bhattarai and 21-year-old Krishna Dhital, both of Tukwila, were last seen in the black Acura that was pulled out of the river near the 1600 block of East Mission, where Dhakal lived with his family.

Detectives working the case discovered a bumper and license plate this morning in the river near South Riverton and Sinto avenues. The Spokane County sheriff’s helicopter was called in and spotted a car in the river near Boone Avenue and Hogan Street, just downstream from the bumper, which had the license plate from the car the three were last seen in, police said.

Police spokeswoman Officer Jennifer DeRuwe said police initially searched the area after a missing persons report was filed, but the river was about four feet higher at the time. Detectives returned today and were able to see the bumper in the water.

Bhattarai and Dhakal are cousins and were neighbors of Dhital while living in United Nations refugee camps in Nepal. The trio spent their childhoods in refugee camps before resettling in the United States two years ago.

Bhattarai was recently married and has a 1-month-old daughter. Dhital was a recent high school graduate. Dhakal was a junior at Lewis & Clark High School and lives with his father, a farm worker, his mother, and his three younger sisters, ages 8, 12 and 16.

“It’s very, very tragic for his family, obviously,” said Mark Kadel, director of World Relief Spokane, which helps resettle refugees in Spokane. “They’ve been very, very, concerned, grieving. It’s not what we hoped, but it’s some type of answer.”

Dil Khadka, 30, is a long-time friend of Dhakal’s family and lived in refugee camps with them before coming to Spokane. Khadka, who was one of about a dozen Bhutanese community members at the scene Wednesday, said Dhakal liked to play soccer and ping-pong.

“He was a very happy guy, always,” Khadka said. “It’s very sad. Not only (for) me, (for) the whole community.”

The tight-knit community in Spokane consists of about 300 Bhutanese refugees. There are about 1,000 Bhutanese refugees in Washington.

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