Vigil in King of Prussia seeks return of kidnapped baby

Supporters work on a sign before the candlelight vigil for Saanvi Venna. More than 200 people attended the gathering in King of Prussia.
Supporters work on a sign before the candlelight vigil for Saanvi Venna. More than 200 people attended the gathering in King of Prussia. (ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer)
Posted: October 26, 2012

"It's been 48 hours," Prasad Sanikommu said softly, leaving the audience to fill in the rest. Two full days since 10-month-old Saanvi Venna was last seen, since she was taken from the King of Prussia apartment where her grandmother had been killed.

He was addressing supporters, media crews, and members of the Indian diaspora around the world. More than 200 people attended the candlelight vigil Wednesday evening at Heuser Park in King of Prussia, surrounding Sanikommu and other relatives as they prayed and pleaded for the girl's safe return, bathed in fluorescent camera lights that were a harsh contrast to the warm glow of the candles.

"We hope that Saanvi is returned so we can all celebrate her birthday . . . together," said Sanikommu, a cousin of the baby's father. He said the father, Venkata Konda Siva Venna, was too distraught to attend.

Before disbanding, they joined their voices in a Telugu prayer, which translates to: "Take me from darkness to light, from ignorance to bliss, and give me peace."

The vigil came at the end of a day that saw a continued police effort to solve the kidnapping and killing as well as the announcement of a $30,000 reward in the case.

The Citizens' Crime Commission of Delaware Valley, the Upper Merion Township Police Department, the Montgomery County District Attorney's Office, and the Telugu Association of North America, an Indian group, announced the reward for information that could lead to the baby's safe return.

In the morning, investigators with K-9 units searched the woods behind the Marquis apartments, where Saanvi Venna was abducted Monday after assailants killed her grandmother, 61-year-old Satayvathi Venna.

Police believe the child was taken between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. Called to the sixth-floor apartment in the C building shortly after 1 p.m., police found the body of Satayvathi Venna. An autopsy was completed Tuesday, but the results have not yet been made public.

Authorities have not released information about how Venna was killed.

Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman said investigators were being guarded with information because "we do not want to do anything that would jeopardize the child's safety."

Authorities have interviewed all the close family members, including cousins, Sanikommu said.

"It's not like they suspect the family," Sanikommu said. "They said they want to have as much information as possible."

As to a motive or theory police may have: "We are not sure."

"We know there is no family dispute or anything," Sanikommu said. "We are a loving family and everybody is close. We are with the family and trying to help them and help the police as much as we can."

Saanvi's parents feel terrible and are in a "state of shock," he said. "If a child gets injured, you think, 'I did not safeguard him properly.' They are frustrated that they could not protect their baby," he said.

Ram Reddy, a family member, said Wednesday: "If you knew the parents, you would not think something like this could happen. We just want the baby."

The Venna family moved to King of Prussia in 2012 after emigrating from India in 2007. In between, the family lived in San Antonio, Texas; Troy, Mich.; and Cleveland, authorities said. Satayvathi Venna arrived from India for a visit in July and was scheduled to return home in January.

Local, state, and federal authorities are jointly investigating the homicide and abduction. There continued to be a flurry of activity around the apartment complex Wednesday.

Wearing evidence gloves, about 25 police officers and three K-9 units searched the wooded area behind the Marquis beginning about 10:30 a.m. and apparently ending at noon.

It was unclear what police were looking for. As they searched, they knocked off brittle leaves from the wooded, hilly area between the complex, on a bustling section of Route 202, and the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

Wednesday night's vigil was one of five to be held around the country. Others were planned in Troy, Mich.; Dallas; Atlanta; and Bridgewater, N.J., areas with large Indian communities.

"We're just a community here," said Ravi Mayreddy, a member of a group organizing the local vigil. "We were really shaken."

Since Monday, Mayreddy said, members of the Indian community in King of Prussia have been at the Upper Merion Police Department to help the family and the investigation any way they can.

"Something like that can happen to anybody. Everybody is shaken," Mayreddy said. "Everyone is very concerned about the safety of the child."

Anyone with information is asked to call the Anonymous Tip Line at 215-546-8477 (TIPS), Upper Merion police at 610-265-3232, or Montgomery County detectives at 610-278-3368.


Contact Carolyn Davis

at 610-313-8109, cdavis@phillynews.com, or @carolyntweets on Twitter.

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