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California murder-suicide:Techie's wife pained by accusations

December 29, 2009 13:07 IST

Aabha Appu, the sole survivor of the Santa Clara murder-suicide tries to be normal and brave, but is still hounded by the memories of that horrific day when her husband Devan Kalathat, an engineer with Yahoo, killed his two children and three members of his family in April 2009. After being shot six times by her husband, Aabha ran outside and collapsed near the house of her neighbour Cheryl Abbate. Abbate tended to Abha and implored the grievously injured woman to stay with her till help arrived.

Aabha cannot eat solid food as her intestine was badly damaged in the shooting. Another surgery, fifth after the tragedy, is needed to rebuild the intestine. But doctors are postponing the procedure till she regains health. "Without eating food, how can one regain health? If I eat some solid food it brings more pain," she said. Her hand still tingles and aches nonstop. She cannot drive or walk for more than ten minutes.

The Malayalam media speculated that Devarajan Kalathat, 42, killed five of his family before killing himself due to financial dealings with Aabha's family. They even said that Aabha's family built a house using the Devarajan's money. Aabha and  Her mother, Devaki refuted all the allegations. Their family has property, and Aabha's brother Ashok Appu, who worked for Hewlett Packard also chipped in. The accusations of financial dealings are not true, they said.

Another painful accusation was that Devarajan quarreled with Ashok Appu, before killing his family. It is also not true, there was no quarrel, Aabha said. This accusation pains the family of Ashok Appu's wife Suchithra Sivaraman, who was another victim along with her 11-month-old child Ahana, Devaki said. "It is more painful to see their anguish. Ashok and Devarajan were seeing each other after five years," she said.

They got more evidence to prove the pre-planning. Three or four days before the incident Devarajan sent US $ 100,000 each to his two brothers and three sisters. The cheques were received only after the incident."His family thinks that there is more money here. I don't know from where," Aabha said. She said she will seek legal help to recover the money.

Devarajan, who was an engineer with Yahoo, was insured for $165,000. Aabha got half of it only as his family was designated to receive the other half.Using that money and a small loan from Maitri, she arranged an apartment in Cupertino, as several friends live in that area.

Aabha said she has no clue why Devarajan committed such a crime. "He must have something wrong in his head. Or he might be mad. He was usually a very loving person, but also a perfectionist. He might have known that there was a tumor in his head. It might have upset him," she said.During the autopsy, the tumor was found benign. It was not harmful but could cause headaches.

Devaki said Devrajan was balding when he visited Kerala last year. The family suggested ayurvedic medicine. He bought medicines worth a thousand rupees from a nearby town. When somebody said that medicines from another pharmacy were better, he discarded the medicine. Devaki said she had come to the US a few years ago during the delivery of Abha's first child Akhil Dev.

"My concept about life itself has changed. In a few months I have seen many types of people. In a fine morning my life went upside down. I lost everything, including my health. I don't know what is in store for the future," Aabha said. But she is not ready to give up or spend life in despair and in the past.

According to a report in Mercury News, Aabha did not know Abbate well as they had only been neighbors for a few days, but remembers her face.
Aabha called Mercury News to help contact Abbate. She was scared about going back to her old house or her neighbour's residence. Until she was contacted by Mercury News, Abbate too had been uncertain about meeting Aabha. "Is she even grateful to be alive? I keep wondering if I did a good thing," Abbate was quoted as saying in the report.

"Time is healing the wounds. But that night, the door was still hanging open, and I didn't realize her husband had killed himself. I thought he might be coming out," Abbate said.  The meeting between the two women was emotional. Abbate came with bouquet of flowers and Reverend Ryan Wright, a police chaplain."All my family members are so grateful to you, Cheryl," Aabha said.

Abbate, 40, is an office manager and mother of two children. She still remembers the day when Devarajan and Aabha moved into the townhouse, started unpacking their stuff and greeted Abbate. Four days later, they met again, when the bleeding Aabha came to her doorstep for help.

Aabha still remembers the woman telling her to 'hold on, honey, hold on'. At first, Abbate thought Aabha had simply fallen. Though her family wanted her to move back to India, Aabha refused. She said she cannot bear to return and face the questions. Instead, she moved to Cupertino.

George Joseph in New York