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Prize-Wining Poet, Infant Son Found Dead

July 18, 2003

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Police are investigating an apparent murder-suicide of a prize-winning poet who is thought to have slit the wrist of her infant son and her own.

Reetika Vazirani, 40, and her 2-year-old son, Jehan, were found lying next to each other in a pool of blood in the dining room of a house where Vazirani was house-sitting, The Washington Post reported Friday.

Investigators found a note with references to the boy’s father, Pulitzer-Prize winning poet Yusef Komunyakaa, the newspaper said.

Neighbors and friends said there had been signs that Vazirani was distraught. She had sought out a meeting with a priest and borrowed a Bible.

Neighbors said the woman and the child were house-sitting for University of Maryland professor Howard Norman, who is vacationing with his wife at their summer home in Vermont.

Officials said one of the woman’s co-workers went to the home and discovered the bodies. Police on Thursday called the deaths an apparent murder-suicide, although an official ruling had not yet been made.

Denise King-Miller, a friend, said Vazirani had spoken to her about personal problems, some involving her relationship with Komunyakaa, a Princeton University professor.

``Her conversation with me was really about how she was going to move forward,″ King-Miller told the Post.

Before 8 a.m. Wednesday, King-Miller said, Vazirani left her a voice mail saying, ``I think I’m going to hurt myself.″

King-Miller said she got the message later and tried to call Vazirani every hour, but got no answer.

Another friend visited the house before 4:30 p.m. and found the bodies lying next to one another on the floor with two large kitchen knives nearby.

Vazirani was a poet who used verse to describe her experience as a child and as an Indian immigrant. Her works were published in several poetry journals in addition to her books. She won the 2003 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for her second book, ``World Hotel,″ and a Barnard New Women Poets Prize for her first, ``White Elephants.″

Komunyakaa won the 1994 Pulitzer Prize for poetry for his book ``Neon Vernacular.″

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