“You couldn’t be sad when you were around her,” is how Aundrey Azeez described his cousin, Marisha Cheong, whose body was found along the Queens shoreline last weekend, two months after she went missing.
Cheong, a graduate of Valley Stream South High School, was found early Saturday morning in Breezy Point, on the Rockaway Peninsula. She was 24.
At the time of her disappearance, Cheong was living with her boyfriend in Jamaica, Queens. Before that, she had lived with her mother, Bibi Ali, in Valley Stream. She was a student at the Long Island University Brooklyn campus, where she was a business management major. According to Azeez, her goal was to one day open her own party planning business.
Cheong was the oldest of four children. She had two brothers and a sister, and Azeez said she was like their second mother. “She was always there for them,” he said.
She was also very close with her many cousins, Azeez noted. “We were a close-knit family,” he said. “The cousins are like brothers and sisters.”
Cheong graduated from South High in 2007. She immigrated to the U.S. from Guyana when she was 10, first living with an aunt in Valley Stream. She then moved to Queens before coming back to Valley Stream.
Azeez described his cousin as shy yet colorful and vibrant, someone whose personality could light up a room. He said she loved to shop, but her family always came first. “She was the nicest person you could ever meet,” he said, recalling her infectious smile. “She was very friendly. She never would raise her voice at anyone.”
Cheong went missing on Dec. 19, having been last seen at about 10:30 that morning near her home on 145th Street. A Facebook page was set up eight days later, seeking information to help find her and offering a $5,000 reward.
According to a New York state missing persons website, Cheong was supposed to meet her boyfriend, L.J. Balkaran, at a Subway stop in Forest Hills that day but never showed up.
At 8:40 a.m. on Saturday, her body was found along the beach in Breezy Point. Dental records helped identify her, and family members later confirmed her identity, according to police officials.
Azeez said that the disappearance and death of his cousin had shocked the whole family, and many suspect foul play was involved. “It was surprising,” he said. “You can’t possibly think of anyone wanting to hurt her. We are trying to stay positive, but at the same time we want justice.”
Both a police spokeswoman and a spokeswoman for the New York City medical examiner’s office said on Tuesday that the cause of Cheong’s death had not yet been determined.