WILMINGTON — Wilmington resident Daniel Andrade Amaral wrote a letter to the editor in the Wilmington Apple last week asking for the Wilmington Police Department to apologize for falling short in the search for Ira Jaan Simbulan. Simbulan was an 18-year old Babson College student living in North Andover who went missing in Wilmington on Aug. 1, 2016 and was found dead on Aug. 3 from suicide.
This resident, who received a police notice about Simbulan’s disappearance, attended the National Night Out event at Rotary Park on Aug. 2 and noted the police presence of Wilmington and other community officers. Knowing that Simbulan’s body was found the morning after, Amaral read an article on how the victim’s family was disappointed by the police response. The 24-year old is a prospective graduate student at Oklahoma State University for fiction writing.
Amaral argued, borrowing from articles in the Wilmington Apple and from North Andover’s Wicked Local page, that WPD’s lack of response was possibly due to the police gathering for the annual National Night Out.
“There was a huge disparity in the patrol presence between the National Night Out and what could’ve been a search for Ira along Glen Road,” he said.
He reached out to the victim’s fiancé, Arjun Bhatnagar, before submitting. He also tried to raise awareness on Wilmington community boards and considered starting a petition, but especially considering Wilmington Police Chief Joe Desmond’s response, he feels that nothing may come of it.
When Bhatnagar received an email from Amaral, he found it both sad and heartwarming.
“I couldn’t believe that anyone still cared about [Ira]. It always feels like it’s just me,” he said.
Bhatnagar detailed the events that led to Simbulan’s suicide over the phone. Some pieces have been borrowed from Chief Desmond’s response with his permission.
On Aug. 1, 2016, 18-year old Ira Jaan Simbulan booked an Uber ride to South Station from the Bhatnagar’s house in North Andover. She was a first-year student at Babson College who moved to the U.S. only four years earlier. She’d just found out that she wouldn’t be allowed to return for her second semester to Babson College due to her mental health status, even though her therapist provided the appropriate clearance. Her fiancé described her as intelligent, gentle, kind, passionate, and feeling utterly alone.
Bhatnagar synthesized what his fiancée might have been feeling at the time when she ran away from home.
“She felt horrible and like she was a burden on our family,” he said.
He believes that she was traumatized by the way that Babson College treated her and didn’t feel like she could keep leaning on only him in all of her troubles. Thinking along this line might have led Simbulan to ask her Uber driver to bring her to Walgreens shortly after he’d taken a detour. They ended up in Wilmington.
She then asked her Uber driver to let her out of the car near 12 Glen Road around 5:30 p.m. on Aug. 1. This was Simbulan’s last known location.
“Around that time, I had a sinking feeling that something had happened to Ira,” Bhatnagar continued.
Realizing she had run away, he hacked her Uber account to see that her ride had stopped short in Wilmington and appropriately called the police.
When Wilmington police met with Bhatnagar’s family, they gave all of the information that they could, from Simbulan’s Uber account and her emotional state that she might attempt to kill herself. The police strongly suggested to the Bhatnagars that Simbulan must have been with a friend in Wilmington.
Chief Desmond’s response even said that they extended the search to other areas of town. Bhatnagar insisted that his family were the only people that Simbulan knew in the entire state.
“She’s petite. She gets tired after walking a mile. I knew she was within a 1-mile walking radius.”
He said that he personally got her Uber driver to return to the scene and talk to the police officers.
Overall, for the first two-and-a-half hours after the disappearance was reported, he observed that the police weren’t focusing on searching the Glen Road area despite the family’s insistence that she wouldn’t go far, and it quickly became dark.
Bhatnagar remembered that it rained on the morning of Aug. 2 before the WPD brought in K-9s to assist in their search for Simbulan — and that they had suggested it to the officers the night before.
“I said, wow, there won’t be a scent anymore.”
His family wanted to knock on doors, but the police told them not to go onto anyone’s property.
Chief Desmond’s response said that the NEMLEC K-9 search on Aug. 2 lasted only three hours from 4 p.m. before they concluded for the night. Then at 6 p.m, the National Night Out event began at Rotary Park, which is ironically only a mile away from 12 Glen Road.
Desmond wrote, “There were no officers or resources committed to the search for Ms. Simbulan that were diverted away from that search to participate in the National Night Out event.”
The biggest disappointment from Bhatnagar was the lack of effort he saw in the police’s part on Aug. 2.
“The next morning, [the police] found her within an hour when they actually checked houses in the area,” Bhatnagar said.
He added that the search on Aug. 3 included a much larger police presence than used previously. In the North Andover article on Wicked Local, Bhatnagar’s father is quoted saying that Simbulan could’ve been found had the police knocked up to 10 doors away from her last known location.
Her body was found on Aug. 3 on the property of 43 Glen Road. She had committed suicide with pain killers that she got at Walgreens.
Chief Desmond responded to Amaral’s request, but he and Bhatnagar found the response to be lacking. The chief laid out all of the efforts that Wilmington and NEMLEC police took in the search for Simbulan. Amaral implied that the response was deflecting his argument to say that no officers were taken from the search for Ira Jaan to attend the Night Out event.
“They could’ve continued the search that night; there was obviously some decision that took place that the search would begin again the morning after on Wednesday, which was when they found her,” Amaral explained.
He added that the chief omitted any overlap between WPD and NEMLEC K-9 during the search on Aug. 2 at 4 p.m. Desmond didn’t specify if any Wilmington officers were present at that time.
Since Simbulaan’s death, Bhatnagar started the nonprofit Ira Jaan Foundation in her name to bring technical and digital literacy and education to people between the ages of 6 and 60. An apology from the Wilmington Police Department isn’t something that he has come to expect, but he added that it would certainly be nice to hear.
“I don’t want to say that the police are bad people,” he said. “I see that more could’ve been done.”
Bhatnagar is only trying to move forward in light of Simbulan’s death.
More information about the work and mission of the Ira Jaan Foundation can be found at https://www.irajaan.org/.