She wasn’t even safe at Church (7 Updates/BREAKING NEWS)

She tried.

She tried to make her marriage to a violent new husband work, and when that failed, she did what she was supposed to do; she summoned the courage to leave. She got not one, but two restraining orders. She switched coasts, to take shelter with the only relatives she had in this vast country, and put 3,ooo miles between herself and her abuser. He drove across that vastness, with a single purpose: to take back what was “his”. evil asshole.jpg

She did everything right, and he still hunted her down, and killed her, in front of the Holy of Holies, in God’s own house, while a hapless congregation was on their knees, reciting prayers for the dead.

A 24-year old Indian immigrant from Kerala trying to escape an abusive marriage, was killed by her husband, who also shot two other persons injuring them critically at a church in New Jersey. [express]
The shootings happened at 11:44 a.m., a witness said.
The gunman ran from the church and drove away in a green convertible Jeep Wrangler with a black soft top and the California license 5JHD200, said the police, who identified him as Joseph Pallipurath, 27, of Sacramento. He remained at large Sunday night as the New Jersey State Police and law enforcement authorities in northern New Jersey widened a manhunt on highways and at transportation terminals. [nyt]

Police kept the parishioners inside the defiled sanctuary for two hours, to gather statements. Then,

Stunned, teary-eyed congregants emerged from their Clifton church this afternoon after a gunman shot three people in the head, killing his estranged wife from an arranged marriage, and leaving the other two victims clinging to life.
Reshma James, 24, died about 4 p.m., police said. The other two victims, identified by fellow parishioners as Dennis John Malloosseril, 23, and Silvy Perincheril, 47, were in what police termed “very critical condition.”
Friends of Malloosseril said he was near death and family members were making arrangements to donate his organs late tonight. []

Malloosseril did die tonight. Besides being on the church’s Board of Directors, he was a computer analyst who took responsibility for the parish website. Had Malloosseril survived, this heroic man would have celebrated his birthday on Tuesday. Instead, he is a victim of what the New York Times called “the climax of a violent domestic quarrel that had reached from California to India to New Jersey over the past year”. Gruesome details regarding the “violent climax”, from a congregant left numb from the horror:

“I didn’t see anything — I just heard the shots,” said 15-year-old Keziah Alummoottio. “Then everyone was screaming, we got down on the floor. I was so scared, just wishing it was a dream. People started calling everyone on their cellphone, but I couldn’t. I just lay there.”
Alummoottio, who stood barefoot on the street after leaving the church, was oblivious to the bitterly cold pavement. She said she took her shoes off in the church’s vestibule before the service as tradition allows, but they “had too much blood on them and the police said I had to leave them there.”[]
The church shootout sent shockwaves across the country. [rediff]

Indeed, a commenter abroad emailed our tip line, saying the tragedy was in the “news, even in faraway Australia.”

The Clifton police described Mr. Pallipurath as armed and dangerous, 5 feet 8 inches tall and 160 pounds. They said active restraining orders had been issued in California and New Jersey against him after domestic violence complaints by his wife, who had moved recently to New Jersey. Detective Capt. Robert Rowan said it appeared the gunman had driven from California to try to force her to return with him.
Members of the church gave a more elaborate account of the woman’s hardships, citing an arranged and abusive marriage that had left her terrified. A family friend, Aniyan Panavelil, said Ms. James, a registered nurse who grew up in India, had wed Mr. Pallipurath, an American, in India a year ago in an arrangement made by their families.
It was unclear if they had met before their wedding.[nyt]

Is this really relevant? You can meet someone before your marriage, hell, you can meet someone and know them for years, and only find out later that they are capable of nightmarish abuse.

James had moved from India…to California in January with her husband. But church members said the relationship soon turned violent.
“He was beating her,” Record quoted Rev Thomas Abraham Lahayil, the church’s vicar, as saying…
She fled Sacramento in California where the couple had their home and moved in with her cousin Perincheril, who is the church’s Sunday school teacher.
James has no immediate family in the US and her parents are en route from India, Church members were quoted as saying.[express]

I’m not sure what else paavam Reshma could have done to escape her tormentor. She left him and moved in with her family– family which, thank GOD, didn’t tell her to “make it work” or “think of the shame you’ll cause us”. And yet, that wasn’t enough, fleeing 3,ooo miles was not enough, none of it was enough to save her or prevent two other innocent people from being harmed.

I’ve read various articles which state that the murderer is American, which has me wondering if he was a 2nd gen ABD, like most of us. If he is, then shame on us as a community, for being surrounded by PSAs, movies of the week, posters on the walls of our high schools, dedicated non-profits…and still not getting it. Shame on us for sweeping violence under the rug. Shame on us for guilting victims in to staying in nightmarish relationships, out of some misplaced sense of duty to what? Family? Tradition? Our oft-vaunted culture? The same culture which, while extraordinary in many ways, also places a premium on honor, and teaches little ones that it’s okay to rain your wrath and pain on those whom you love most, because that’s what many of us saw our parents do, and no one ever tells?

The cycle never stops.

Something needs to change. No, not something. Someone. SomeoneS. We need to change. We need to treat domestic violence as more than an afterthought or a distasteful, unfortunate situation which happens to other people, people whom we then whisper about, but don’t help. I saw it, over and over again while growing up. Everybody knew who was hurting, nobody did a damned thing.

We need to switch the burden of shame from the victim to the abuser, to call out such behavior collectively and condemn it, thoroughly, until it stops.

I’m not alone in feeling this anguish. Approximately a dozen of you emailed me about this senseless tragedy, while expressing your own grief; almost all of you used the word “community“.

shows that domestic violence occurs in the desi community and for the perpertrators nothing including life, liberty, and choice is inviolable
Something to inform the Indian community about. There are so many domestic violence stories which occur in our community that go unreported and unheard.

And most heartbreaking of all, from another Malayalee woman:

This story reminds me so much of myself. When my daughter was three, I tried to leave my then-husband, who abused me. I was afraid he would kill me. I told someone, and they offered to help me. I almost left, but then I realized he would just come after me and kill me and the person who tried to help. I didn’t care about my life, but I couldn’t let someone innocent die. That’s why I stayed…

There has to be another way. There has to be. My prayers are with Reshma, Dennis, Silvy, their families, that parish, and all of us.


The National Domestic Violence Hotline is 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or TTY 1-800-787-3224 (help available in 170 languages).

An important note I hadn’t even thought of:

Computer use can be monitored and is impossible to completely clear. If you are afraid your internet and/or computer usage might be monitored, please use a safer computer, call your local hotline, and/or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or TTY 1-800-787-3224[NDVH]

SAWNET has a list of resources (for the U.S., U.K., Canada, India), here. SAKHI has a list of American organiztions, here.


UPDATE #1- We’ve received new information, in the last hour. Georgia-area mutineers, keep your eyes peeled for evil:

Police are searching for the suspect, 27-year-old Joseph M. Pallipurath of Sacramento, Calif., in Georgia, where he has relatives. [AP]


UPDATE #2- Some of you have asked for statistics or more information. We’ve written about domestic violence before. The following posts may be of interest to you: Wifebeating in India (updated w/ child abuse figures), Wifebeating worldwide, National Sexual Assault Awareness Month.


UPDATE #3- a reader lets us know that the murderer’s Father wants him to turn himself in (thanks, “more info”):

Mathai Pallipurath, the suspect’s father, told The Associated Press Monday he doesn’t know his son’s whereabouts and hasn’t had any contact with him. But he urged his son to surrender, and asked his son’s friends to do the same if they hear from him.
Mathai Pallipurath said he had not seen his daughter-in-law since the family made a trip to India in September. She stayed behind in the southern state of Kerala when he and his son returned to the United States. They had sent her a plane ticket to return in early October, but she didn’t come back and they had not heard from her.
Pallipurath said he did not know his daughter-in-law had returned to the U.S. and didn’t know his son, who lives in an apartment in Sacramento, had tracked her down in New Jersey until he learned about Sunday’s church shooting. [newsday]

Mathai Pallipurath went on to say that he thought the couple was happy and that his son was a handsome, nice guy. No. The man whom he murdered deserves those accolades. To those of you who are grieving for your friend (I’ve seen your status updates on FB), my sincerest condolences. He sounds like he was an amazing human being.


UPDATE #4- This is Dennis John’s picture, from the Facebook group created in his memory:

Dennis John.png

May his (and Reshma’s) memory be eternal.


UPDATE #5- Joseph Pallipurath, the killer, is neither 1st nor 2nd gen; he’s 1.5. Born in Kerala, he came here for high school. I add this update because I think it underscores how pointless it is to cast aspersions on ABDs or DBDs as if one group is more prone to misogyny.


UPDATE #6- One of the victim’s family members speaks:

I remember discussions last summer when I was in Kerala about this marriage. Reshma’s mother lives 2 houses down from my paternal grandparents. Reshma comes from a broken home – her mother left her father (who shares the same family name as I) and settled where she lives now (across the road from her sister). What I heard last summer was that many of the relatives advised her not to go through w/ the marriage. I’m not sure exactly how they met but I will tell you it wasn’t a straight out arranged marriage from what I know. They met somehow and I think despite what she had heard about him from others, she thought he was a changed man. I’m sure she also thought that this was a way for her family life to get better since she would be going to America after a short while as he was a US citizen. Once she got a job, she’d be able to send money back to her mom like my parents do even now. [sm]


UPDATE #7- 1:15am. Breaking news. THEY FOUND HIM! (Thanks, rani):

A California man accused of driving to New Jersey and fatally shooting his estranged wife and another man inside a church on Sunday has been captured in Georgia.
New Jersey district U.S. Marshal James Plousis said 27-year-old Joseph M. Pallipurath was captured around midnight Monday in Monroe, east of Atlanta. [msnbc]

May justice be served.

112 thoughts on “She wasn’t even safe at Church (7 Updates/BREAKING NEWS)

  1. apart from the comments offering resources, commiseration, and/or personal recollections, the rest of the speculation and remarks here are just disgusting. do you know any of these people? why are you offering your uninformed opinions and guesses like greedy old vultures circling over carrion for gossip? if you can’t offer anything constructive, just shut up instead of indulging in the most pathetic kind of rubbernecking.

  2. Please let us keep this tragedy in perspective.

    This was a case of a disturbed individual killing his wife and at least one other person. To attribute this to problems with the system of arranged marriages, tolerance of abuse within the desi community, sweeping it under the rug, etc is off the mark. There are millions of arranged marriages that work out just fine – I am not for one moment advocating this system of finding one’s mate. Also, irrespective of the race or ethnic background of the individuals there is a tendency not to want to publicize abuse because it tends to be equated to washing one’s dirty laundry in public. Again, I am not for a moment condoning the tendency to keep a lid on this sort of a problem – but it is not unique to Indians.

    We read so many instances of horrible crimes being committed against spouses in the US involving other racial groups. It does not evoke the same reaction because it does not hit close to home like this crime does. The very fact that we are reacting to the extent that we are is probably an indication that this is an aberration of sorts.

    At the risk of jumping to conclusions it appears that this man’s family was at least semi-dysfunctional. There was a restraining order against him by his own father and I read a report that another brother had a restraining order in effect by the father. Quite honestly, I have never heard of something like this in the context of Indian families in the US where such legal protection has been sought by a parent against their children. Sure there are tensions between parents and children – but that is also something that is prevalent in other races and ethnic groups.

  3. As a Malayalee Christian and working for years as a domestic violence advocate, this incident has been almost too hard to read.

    A few things:

    1. Every domestic violence expert should be able to tell you– DV is NOT caused by mental illness (“he was crazy”), loss of control (“he couldn’t help it”), jealousy, the victim’s actions (“she shouldn’t have left him”), drugs or alcohol, family history, witnessing it as a child, or any other EXCUSE that we can come up with. DOMESTIC VIOLENCE IS A CHOICE THAT A BATTERER MAKES TO BE COERCIVE, CONTROLLING AND MANIPULATIVE TO HIS/HER PARTNER, IN ORDER TO GAIN OR MAINTAIN POWER AND CONTROL. This is often done by using physical, sexual, emotional, verbal, mental, psychological, spiritual, economic, educational, medical and/or other tactics.

    2. 1st Gen, 1.5 Gen, 2nd Gen, and now even teens in 3rd Gen– have all been known to perpetrate and are all vulnerable as victims. It is not about which generation you were born in– it is a choice you have made based on things you have learned & decided in your life.

    3. We have done workshops in various settings, INCLUDING Malayalee churches, about domestic violence. Yeah, most people don’t talk about it, but that is the only way. Break the stereotypes, give options to victims, hold batterers’ accountable, speak up about it from public places, teach our children– these are our only avenues of hope.

  4. I agree with ‘show some decency’, the commentary from the original post and these newer updates aren’t offering anything except fodder for the gossip mill. You don’t know the victims, so throwing your uninformed guesswork into this as to why she made her decisions to marry him, how we should be ashamed of ourselves as a community, etc. isn’t really doing anything to help anyone.

  5. How much more could this poor girl have done? What could the community have done? This individual was bound and determined to hold on to the view that his wife was his property and notihng would change him. Short of throwing him in jail the first time he hit her, and keeping him there, there is very little that anyone could have done. I went against my family when my cousin started hitting his wife by reporting him to the police and at the end of the day, I was penalized by the extended family as she went back to him and did not press charges. I would do it again in a heartbeat.

    Just keep reporting these crimes and maybe someone, somewhere will take courage and step away from an abusive relationship or be fearful enough not to hit their partner. And may these souls rest in peace.

  6. 106 · Stick to the story said

    I agree with ‘show some decency’, the commentary from the original post and these newer updates aren’t offering anything except fodder for the gossip mill.

    i was talking about the comments, not the post.

  7. A California man accused of fatally shooting his estranged wife and another man in a New Jersey church Sunday had been renting a room a few miles away for two weeks beforehand, authorities said Tuesday. Pallipurath stayed with an unidentified couple in Paterson, only a few miles from the church. Avigliano didn’t provide details about the couple, a man and a woman, but said it did not appear that they were related to him. The couple was questioned but were not charged in connection with the shootings. Associated Press Writer David Porter in Newark, N.J., contributed to this report. Hosted by Copyright © 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
  8. as a non-desi domestic violence survivor, i would like to offer my perspective – first just to express my own grief over what has happened, and then also to weigh in on why i feel this is a very important discussion even in a time of grief. I strongly agree with those trying to draw the distinction that just because domestic violence exists in all communities does not mean different communities won’t have their own perspectives, resources, challenges and solutions.

    I received so much support from my own community in trying to deal with this – people who understood my fears about acting or not acting, my reluctance to believe my love capable of acting in such a manner – people willing to ask questions, to help me stop and reflect, to love me regardless, to acknowledge danger without needing protection; telling me again and again to trust myself, trust my instincts, and teaching me to lead my own way to safety and healing. During the crisis point when i left, immediate family members were too close to the situation to be able to help fully without jeopardizing their own or my safety — my ex knew how to get to them and their homes; their own emotions and fear added to my stress. A big part of why I was able to talk to these friends was that we had been working together to end violence against women of color with an intersectional analysis that takes in everybody as whole multidimensional people living in a multidimensional world – sparked by our grief and rage stemming from a tragedy in our community. I had no desire to harm my ex-partner, but i did want to assure my own safety, and to think about issues of accountability to whoever his future partners might be. It was helpful to have friends who clearly saw the distinction between state punishment of my ex and my protection. It helps to know people who can focus on de-escalating violence. I was also very fortunate that my ex has not acted as this man did. At the same time, it was not useful to me to paint my ex as evil or pathological or anything else in this context, just as somebody who made some harmful choices. Portrayals which removed his humanity and agency prompted my protective urges to defend him or help him seek help rather than to recognize his responsibility for his behavior and focus on what i needed to be okay.

    Conversations about racial, sexual, gendered, ethnic and class-based violence and about transformative justice help build trust so that resources are there when we need them. Also , I will note that other friends I reached out to were also supportive. Thus my friends were able to help me protect myself without escalating the violence, which fortunately was what worked for my situation. Everybody’s relationships are different, but by having these conversations not only on listservs but also in community we can help each other reduce shame and recognize both early warning signs (as my friends did for me) and dangerous moments (like trying to leave) so we can hopefully avert future tragedies within and beyond the desi community. Thanks for having this conversation, and again, my love and prayers are with the families of all involved.

  9. 106 · Stick to the story said

    You don’t know the victims, so throwing your uninformed guesswork into this as to why she made her decisions to marry him, how we should be ashamed of ourselves as a community, etc. isn’t really doing anything to help anyone.

    The commentary from my post is fodder for the gossip mill? Why, because I posted updates submitted by FAMILY MEMBERS of the deceased? How do you know whom I do and do not know? The correct answer is, you don’t. You have no idea whom I’ve spoken to over the last 48 hours.

    With all due respect, your assumptions and comment aren’t productive at all. I’ve worked very hard to make sure that this was a safe space for discussion. We’ve moderated aggressively to remove prying questions and other inappropriate content.

    And frankly, I stand by what I wrote. We SHOULD be ashamed of ourselves, if we let such things continue to occur. If we are not open to understanding this issue and we just dismiss it away as “mental illness” or a one-off “anomaly”, we have learned NOTHING. I cannot believe the level of denial which has displayed itself during this thread via several comments from different people.

    DV is an issue which affects EVERYONE, but it affects some communities in unique ways. This was not an aberration. I can count on both of my hands the number of women in my family and family whose partners isolated them/threatened to kill them/destroyed them emotionally/beat them severely. Stop trying to distance yourselves from it; if your family is perfect, well then God has blessed you abundantly. The rest of us aren’t so lucky– and neither are future desi victims of DV, if we keep up this wild goose chase of rationalizations and excuse-making.


    “show some decency”, thank you so much for recognizing what I tried to do. I sincerely appreciate it.

  10. Whatever the reason for this horrific attack, I agree with Anna’s main point: just sighing and calling this guy crazy or waving the problem away is both pointless and disrespectful. Three people are dead because this man thought of his wife as his property and felt free to commit violence against her or anyone who tried to help her. If you don’t think that is domestic violence there is simply no point in arguing with you.