CLIFTON, N.J. – Joseph M. Pallipurath went halfway around the world to India to find a wife last year. Now the California man is accused of going across the country to New Jersey to kill her.
Reshma James had left Pallipurath, had filed a restraining order against him and was living with a distant cousin. Police say the two women were in church Sunday when Pallipurath confronted them and started shooting, just after the prayer for departed souls.
James was killed, and her cousin, Silvy Perincheril, was in "extremely critical" condition, police said. Dennis John Mallosseril, who witnesses said had tried to intervene, was shot in the head and died later Sunday in a hospital.
Authorities were conducting a nationwide manhunt for Pallipurath, who fled in a green 2004 Jeep with California license plates and a black soft top. The search was centering on Georgia, where the suspect has relatives.
"We'll catch him," Passaic County Prosecutor James Avigliano said. "He needs to give himself up before we catch him."
The shootings at the St. Thomas Syrian Orthodox Knanaya Church in Clifton have reverberated throughout the Knanaya faith, a close-knit Christian minority in India who are even closer-knit in the United States.
James' aunt, Maria Joseph, says the 27-year-old Pallipurath had grown up in the United States before going to India last year to find a wife. He married James, 24, in the largely Christian state of Kerala, where a group of Knanaya Christians from Syria settled some 1700 years ago.
Joseph, who lives in Hartford, Conn., one of a handful of U.S. cities with big Knanaya communities, said she had counseled her niece not to marry Pallipurath because relatives had told her he had "behavioral problems." She said that led to a rift between her and James, and she hadn't heard that the couple had moved to Sacramento, Calif., early this year.
After fleeing three months ago from what authorities said was an abusive, arranged marriage, James came to New Jersey and stayed with Perincheril, 47, of Hawthorne. James had taken out a restraining order against her estranged husband, Avigliano said.
"She found out he wasn't all he was cut out to be," Avigliano said. "He was abusive toward her, and she left him and came out here."
The suspect's father, however, told The Associated Press Monday he thought his son and daughter-in-law had been happy together.
Speaking from his Sacramento home, Mathai Pallipurath, described his son as "a nice guy." He urged Joseph Pallipurath to surrender but said he hasn't had any contact with 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. He said that they had sent her a plane ticket to return in early October, but that they had not heard from her and he had been unaware she was back in the U.S.
Mathai Pallipurath said he knew his son left California in October to stay with a relative in Georgia, but that he had not been in touch, either.
The blinds were drawn shut and nobody answered the door Monday at the Sacramento apartment building where the couple lived. Neighbor Maria Tolcock said she didn't know Pallipurath but would see him frequently pacing on the deck of the second-floor apartment where they lived.
In New Jersey, James went with Perincheril to services at St. Thomas, a church that moved around the suburbs of New York City for 13 years before its members finally bought a modest brick building in Clifton eight years ago.
The vicar, the Rev. Thomas Abraham, said the church was founded in 1987 for a community that began a decade earlier, as Knanaya women came from India as exchange students in nursing and pharmacy and stayed.
Now, some services are in English as the church fills with the children of the first-generation immigrants who founded it.
On Sunday, one of those younger members was Mallosseril, an engineer at Schering-Plough Corp. who died two days shy of his 26th birthday. Witnesses said he tried to intervene when he saw Pallipurath come in and fight with James.
"He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time," Abraham said.
Mallosseril's cousin, Jiji Alummoottil, called the victim a hero: "He would help people in trouble. That's what he was doing yesterday and that's why he's dead."
Archbishop Kuriakose Mar Severios, who is based in Kerala, is scheduled to arrive in New Jersey on Wednesday to mourn.