The arrest Friday of a 17-year-old boy accused of strangling his mother sent shock waves through western Wake County’s Indian community, according to a Morrisville town councilman.
It took more than a year for investigators to gather enough evidence to make an arrest in the Dec. 17, 2015, death of Nalini Tellaprolu, a popular 51-year-old mother of two who worked at Duke Medical Center. Friends of the family were shocked when Cary police charged her son, Arnav Uppalapati, with her murder.
“It’s very devastating,” said Satish Garimella, a Morrisville town councilman of Indian descent. “There’s never been an incident where a son has taken the life of his own biological mother.”
Garimella said he had been taking many calls from parents who want to give their teenagers space “to do their homework and stuff.”
“But now, they are wondering how much should we monitor them and if we are giving too much freedom to our kids when incidents like this happens,” he said. “You want to get your kids together and be close to them. You want to know what went wrong and how can we prevent this from ever happening again?”
Cary police Capt. Randall Rhyne declined to discuss a motive, nor would he say what evidence led investigators to Uppalapati.
But Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman said Uppalapati was a person of interest throughout the investigation. One telling clue, Freeman said, were early reports that indicated there were no signs of a forced entry into the family’s two-story, $450,000 home at the Upchurch Farms subdivision.
Close family friends who were awaiting an arrest in the case echoed Garimella’s shock and disbelief that Tellaprolu’s son was accused in her death. One month after she died, her longtime friend Padma Tummala said the slain woman often spoke fondly of her daughter, Avani, and son, Arnav. She said she remembered when Tellaprolu told her how Arnav, who attended Green Hope High School, stayed up late working on homework and that she would stay up with him to ensure he had plenty of snacks.
“We’re shocked as a community,” Tummala said Friday afternoon. “This was not something we expected to hear. She focused all of her energy on her kids.”
Another family friend, Vijay Javvadi, said he was surprised to learn Tellaprolu’s son was charged with her murder.
“I still don’t believe it,” he said. “This is completely out of the blue.”
Javvadi said he talked frequently with Tellaprolu’s family after her death and spoke with her husband, Babu Mahesh Uppalapati, on Friday morning.
“I’m pretty sure he’s in the same boat as the rest of us,” Javvadi said. “The way that it has affected us, I can only imagine what he’s going through.”
Son calls 911
Arnav Uppalapati was 16 when he called 911 on the afternoon of Dec. 17, 2015, and told an emergency dispatcher that he had arrived home from school and found his 51-year-old mother lying dead on the garage floor of their home on Roland Glen Road. The teen led two uniformed officers to his mother’s body.
Tellaprolu had been strangled, with a plastic bag over her head. Her feet were in the back seat of a car, according to an autopsy report from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
The teen told the officers that he had last seen his mother alive the night before at about 10:30 p.m. when the two of them ate dinner together. Uppalapati told police that he went upstairs to do his homework and later went to bed. He said he woke up the next morning about 6:50 a.m., ate breakfast and left for school at 7 a.m.
Uppalapati told police that he did not see or talk to his mother before leaving out the front door. The teen said he returned home at 3:20 p.m. and saw her lying on the garage floor, according to a search warrant application from Cary police.
Tellaprolu’s death was ruled a homicide by the Medical Examiner’s Office. Her body was covered with bruises and scratches on her face, neck, torso and arms. There were minor blunt force injuries, and the cartilage in her neck was fractured, according to the report.
It did not appear the home was targeted for robbery. The alarm system had not been activated, and there were no signs of forced entry. Police say nothing had been removed from the home during the crime, according to search warrant applications.
In the days after Tellaprolu’s death, investigators searched a 2013 Honda Civic she drove and the family home and reviewed the home’s alarm system records.
Investigators learned that Babu Uppalapati was out of state on a business trip.
He told police that he had made several attempts to call and text his wife, without success. Uppalapati told detectives he had called his son and told him to go home immediately after school and check on his mother because she was not answering her phone.
Detectives also learned that Tellaprolu was adamant about activating the home security system each night before she went to bed. They discovered that on the night of Dec. 16 into the morning of Dec. 17, the home security system was never activated.
I still don’t believe it. This is completely out of the blue.
Vijay Javvadi, a family friend, on learning that Nalini Tellaprolu’s son was charged with her murder
Tellaprolu failed to show up for work on Dec. 17 at Duke University Health System, where she was a testing coordinator and quality assurance team leader.
She also served on the board of directors of the Triangle Area Telugu Association, a nonprofit that seeks to promote southeastern Indian culture.
Arnav Uppalapati’s arrest marked the second time this month that a teen has been charged with killing his mother. On March 6, Franklin County sheriff’s deputies charged Oscar Funez Machado, 18, with first-degree murder, after the sheriff said he decapitated his mother, Yesenia Funes Beatriz Machado, 35, at their home northeast of Zebulon.
“Total disbelief,” Garimella said about Uppalapati’s arrest, “especially for a son to do that to his own biological mother. It really sends shock waves.”