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Family still searches for answers two years after death of their son

Tarak Underiner’s family had just bid him farewell shortly after Christmas as he headed back to Ohio State to ring in the new year with a couple of his roommates.  

It was the last Christmas they’d spend with their only son.

At 12:31 a.m. on Jan. 5, 2017, Columbus Police officers found the 20-year-old unresponsive and suffering from multiple gunshot wounds in his off-campus home on East Northwood Avenue.

“You never know when that is the last time you have — some experience is going to be the last time,” Todd Underiner, Tarak’s father, said.

At 12:41 a.m., he was pronounced dead.

“You can’t really put a price on your child’s life.”—Todd Underiner, Tarak’s father

Two years after his death, the family of Tarak Underiner is now offering a $2,500 reward through Central Ohio Crime Stoppers for any information leading to the arrest or indictment of the person responsible for this crime.

“It was unimaginable at the time, and that’s why it was such a hard thing to deal with because it didn’t seem real,” Tyler Pistor, one of Tarak’s close friends from his home in Cincinnati, said.

Underiner’s family is asking the community and the Ohio State student population to provide relevant information about the people Tarak was involved with that hasn’t been brought to the police’s attention.

“With the benefit of time and a little bit more maturity, maybe they think that they could share and help out the case,” Underiner said.

Tarak takes a photo with his mother, Angeli and his father, Todd Underiner while on spring break in 2016. Credit: Courtesy of Todd Underiner

Underiner also noted that the reward might increase over time to generate additional interest or publicity, but he said providing this incentive is one of the hardest things to do as a parent.

“You can’t really put a price on your child’s life,” Underiner said.

With few leads and very little information to go on, lead detective Glen Siniff also sees the need for more help, saying that any assistance, “no matter how minor,” will be welcomed by law enforcement.

Although investigators confirmed that the shooting was drug-related, there have been no other key details revealed about the case.

Siniff said police would like to talk to all of Tarak’s roommates, but few have come forward. He also believes there are individuals who were not Tarak’s roommates who might have some insight into his murder.

Based on interviews from the investigation, Siniff said it appears that some individuals fear retaliatory acts. However, he said with so much time having passed, the possibility of a suspect retaliating is unlikely.

After two years, it would appear that nobody had any idea of who would want to murder this fine young man,” Siniff said.

The family is still grieving. Underiner said he hopes for a different answer soon, one leading to a trial and those responsible behind bars.

“Regardless of what he may have been involved in, none of that deserves being shot and murdered over,” Underiner said.

As time continues to pass, Tarak’s friends and family are more desperate than ever for answers.

“It’s upsetting to think that there are people out there that do know what happened that aren’t saying anything about it,” Pistor said.

In the midst of loss, Underiner said his family gained “something quite unexpected and touching” — a support system of Tarak’s closest friends.

“They might’ve lost a son, but they gained a whole new family out of that,” Kristopher Kirker, one of Tarak’s best friends from Cincinnati, said.

Underiner said he couldn’t express enough gratitude for the support.

“We have been so grateful for the friends both at Ohio State and his friends here in Cincinnati who have continued to stand by us and walk with us on this journey. It makes it a little bit easier,” Underiner said.

For James Vinson, who’s known Tarak for as long as he could remember, said his death made him think about how life can be gone in an instant.

Through his grief, Vinson said he was even more motivated to pursue his master’s degree in sports management at Indiana

Underiner saying goodbye to his dog Ace, after moving into an apartment in 2015. Credit: Courtesy of Todd Underiner

State University. Vinson said Tarak was one of the “smartest guys” he knew, who would’ve graduated and certainly gone on to get his master’s degree in marketing.

“I could do this for Tarak; I could go get my master’s degree — that was probably something he would’ve done,” Vinson said. “His passion just inspired us even more.”

Two years have passed since Tarak’s death, and for family and friends, closure has come slowly.

“The bullets that tore into him killed him pretty quickly. I’d say the ramifications for our family and for his friends have been much slower, and it changes everything,” Underiner said.

Pistor described the feeling of living with such uncertainty as “something that eats” at him every day, adding that there is “not a day that goes by that I don’t think about him.”

Vinson said that his friend will never get to celebrate his 21st birthday or have the opportunity to graduate college.

“He would’ve done such amazing things, and it’s so heartbreaking that he didn’t get the chance to do those things,” Vinson said. “It’s just so heartbreaking to lose a friend that you know is that special of a person, and he could’ve made such an impact on the world and in other people’s lives.”

Individuals with any information can contact Crime Stoppers anonymously at 614-461-8477 or visit their website at www.stopcrime.org to email a tip.

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