Although many saw them as a loving couple, new details emerged today revealing at least one problem between the Santa Clara shooter and his wife — a tearful call to Sunnyvale police.
A woman whom officers believed was Devan Kalathat's wife called police from a city park in Sunnyvale in July 2008, according to a police report obtained today by the Mercury News. While crying, she told a police dispatcher that her husband had taken her passport and all her documents. Police records indicate a translator was used on the phone.
Two police units responded and met Kalathat and the woman , according to the police report. Officers helped resolve the dispute in about 15 minutes, according to an interview today with Sunnyvale Department of Public Safety Capt. Doug Moretto. There is no other information in the one paragraph report.
"If there was an actual domestic violence incident, where physical force was used or she felt fearful of that, the case would require documentation. And that did not occur here," Moretto said.
The wife, identified by her family in India as Abha Appu, 34, remains in critical condition following a Sunday night murder-suicide at the Santa Clara Rivermark development on Headen Way. She was the only one to survive the massacre.
Santa Clara police say her husband, armed with two .45-caliber handguns, killed five relatives, including his two children, Akhil Dev, 11, and Negha Dev, 4.
Police also say Kalathat, a Yahoo Web analytics engineer, killed his wife's brother, Ashokan Appu Poothemkandi, 35; his sister-in-law, Suchitra Sivaraman, 25, and the couple's 11-month-old daughter, Ahana Ashok. Poothemkandi was in the United States on an assignment for Hewlett Packard in Bangalore.
The relatives were found in the kitchen area, while Kalathak was found by himself upstairs, police said.
Authorities have not said what sparked the rampage, other than they don't believe it was financially motivated. Several Indian news organizations have reported there was some sort of quarrel between the two brothers-in-law, but that has not been substantiated by police.
Two South Asian groups dedicated to protecting women against domestic violence say threatening to rip up or keep legal papers, such as a passport or Green Card, is unfortunately a common pattern of abuse.
"It's a tool like any other tool,'' said Sarah Khan, program director for Maitri in San Jose. "It's power, a control measure. It's like, "I'll take away your car keys, your credit card, your children.''
Added to the abuse for an immigrant, even if they were legal such as Kalathat's family, is the threat: "If I take away your passport, you may not be able to visit your home country,'' Khan said.
That Abha Appu was a U.S. citizen would have made it relatively simply for her to get a new passport. But Atashi Chakravarty, executive director of Narika in Berkeley, said many times, South Asian women don't even know that.
"We try to teach women that it is illegal for anyone to take your papers or threaten to take your papers,'' she said. "This is all part of an abuse pattern.''
In addition to the phone call to Sunnyvale police last summer, the public safety department also released information on other contacts they had with Kalathat while he lived in that city for 15 years. They were all relatively minor incidents.
Kalathat was involved in some sort of traffic collisions on June 3, 2005 and June 19, 2004 in Sunnyvale. He was also issued a traffic citation on Oct. 3, 2007.
Reached by phone today in the state of Kerala, Kalathat's brother, Rhagavan Parthasarathy, 37, a film director, said he still can't fathom why this happened. He never knew of any troubles his older brother had with his wife, or his brother-in-law.
"He was so calm and brilliant,'' Parthasarathy said. "He was a peaceful man. He had no mental problems even if he might have been lacking in social awareness. And Abha was such a good girl. They were a good couple.'