Church victim's family clings to hope

December 21, 2008 8:57:17 AM PST
As quiet prayers gave way to panicked screams, parishioners ducked under pews and fell on one another in a scramble to escape the gunfire. Cherian Perincheril was knocked down in the chaos as he tried to get out of the sanctuary to the church vestibule, where his wife, Silvy, was among three people who'd be shot by a gunman.

"Don't leave me. I know you are a strong lady," Perincheril told his wife as he cradled her bleeding head.

Silvy Perincheril, 47, survived the attack, but is still hospitalized and is unable to speak or interact with family members who have kept a vigil by her bedside since the Nov. 23 shooting that killed two - including her second cousin - inside the St. Thomas Syrian Orthodox Knanaya Church in Clifton.

"From day one, I've had the thought that she would be back," said her son, Jacob Perincheril, adding that his mother renewed their hope earlier this week when she opened her eyes and emerged from a coma for the first time.

Perincheril's husband was just two weeks into retirement after 27 years with the New York City Transit Authority when the shooting occurred. He was looking forward to spending more time with his wife and their three sons.

"It's very hard for him, he's always with tears coming out, because you have so many expectations," said the Rev. Thomas Abraham Lahayil, the church pastor. "You are looking forward to doing so many things, and then all of a sudden - out of nowhere - the whole equation changes."

Police believe a domestic dispute led the alleged gunman, Joseph Pallipurath, to drive from Sacramento, Calif., to Clifton - about 15 miles west of New York City - to kill his estranged wife, 24-year-old Reshma James. Parishioner Dennis John Mallosseril, who witnesses said tried to help the women, also was killed in the attack.

Pallipurath has pleaded not guilty to murder, attempted murder and weapons offenses and remains jailed in New Jersey with bail set at $5 million. He was apprehended at a Georgia motel 36 hours after the shooting.

In a videotaped confession, the 27-year-old told prosecutors that he would have killed everyone in the building if he'd had a machine gun, according to Walton County Assistant District Attorney Eric Crawford.

Silvy Perincheril gave James a place to stay after she decided to leave her abusive husband and move to New Jersey to pursue a nursing career, according to relatives.

"She was like my mom's first daughter," Jacob Perincheril said of James. "She always said that she'd always wanted a daughter, and this was her shot. They'd always watch TV together - Indian programs - and cook a lot together, and take walks."

Like many members of the Knanaya, Silvy Perincheril emigrated from Kerala, India, to the New York area to work as a nurse in the 1970s.

She returned to India to marry, and came back to the U.S. with her husband. They settled in Hawthorne and raised three sons: 22-year-old Jacob, who just graduated from Rutgers University; Joshua, 21, a junior at Penn State University, and 18-year-old Matthew, a Rutgers freshman.

Cherian Perincheril said his wife's love of children motivated her to leave hospital work and become a school nurse in the Passaic school system. She also led the church's Sunday school program for many years.

Mallosseril also was one of the church's most active members, designing its Web site and serving as an altar boy. He died a day after the shooting, and a day before his 26th birthday.

His mother, Aley John, decided to donate her son's organs so that others could live. She said meeting a young man who had received some of his organs, and the outpouring of calls and letters family members received was helping sustain them in the loss of their only son.

"Everybody gives so much support and comfort that we cannot describe," she said. "Without their prayers and without their support, we couldn't stand up."

James had moved in with the Perincheril family just a few months before and was not well known at the church, Lahayil said. But the Perincheril and Mallosseril families are among its most beloved and active members, and the families live a few houses away from each other on the same street.

The close-knit community and interwoven family connections are common to the Knanaya, who largely hail from the state of Kerala on the southern coast of India. They practice endogamy - or marrying within the same social group - to preserve ancient bloodlines they say trace back to 72 families that traveled from the Middle East to India around A.D. 345 to do missionary work.

Rev. Lahayil said Knanayan churches worldwide - from Australia to the Middle East - have added special prayers to every service for Perincheril's recovery. Parishioners at the Clifton church were planning a full day of fasting and prayers for her survival on Saturday.

Lahayil said the Christmas season was usually a joyous occasion at the church, but festivities such as caroling had been canceled this year, replaced by ongoing prayers for Perincheril's recovery and for the families of the dead.

"I think this incident has brought the community closer to God, closer to the religious aspect of going to church," Lahayil said. "People are coming together and thinking: 'We should be doing more, we should be praying more,' because everybody feels it could have been them."

Click here for New York and Tri-State News

Report a typo || Send a story idea || Send news photos/videos
Follow us on Facebook || Twitter New York News || Twitter Breaking News