Guyanese NY family picks up pieces after violent loss of matriarch
(Reprinted from the New York Times)
January 23, 2004
In Aug. 15, as the Northeast was recovering from a widespread loss of power, the Mangra family was plunged into a darkness far deeper, and far more lasting, than that of any blackout. That night, the family of 11 lost its matriarch, Rautie Mangra, 61.
The police said she was shot and killed in the basement of their home in Jamaica, Queens, by her brother-in-law, Baljeet Mangra, who was later charged with second-degree murder.
In late October, Mrs. Mangra's daughter Annie Mangra, 39, sat in her living room while hymns played on the radio, still trying to deal with the shock of what had happened.
"I never realised guns could be this real except in movies," she said.
Before the shooting, the Mangras, who are from Guyana, had been transplanting their family to America so they could build a better life. Mrs. Man-gra's husband, Baldeo, 64, has been a maintenance worker at Kennedy International Airport since he arrived in New York in 1990.
He saved money to buy a house and looked forward to the day his wife and their children would join him in the United States.
In February 2002, Mrs. Mangra, Annie and Annie's three children - Michael, 21; Monica, 19; and Melissa, 17 - did exactly that, and in October of the same year, Mr. Mangra fulfilled another part of his dream when he bought a house.
"It's a break in life," Annie said of moving to America. "In my country, it's kind of getting worse. There's a lot of crime, and no matter how hard you work, you cannot own a house."
Mrs. Mangra was thrilled with the house, Annie said. She was also thrilled as more members of her family came together in the United States, day by day. In September 2002, Annie's husband, Rudolph Mohamed, now 41, and their son Matthew, now 4, joined the family in New York. Not long after that, Mr. and Mrs. Mangra's son Nandalall, 29, a jeweller; his wife, Reema, 18; and their son, Joshua, 1, also left Guyana and moved in with the family.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Mangra began following her own dream: to be reunited in New York with her four other children, Deo-narine, Parbattie, Chandradat and Rohit, who are still in Guyana, along with their families.
Although the family continues to gather its members in New York, its reunion will now never be truly complete. Mrs. Mangra will not be there to enjoy the clamour of generations under one roof.
According to the police and relatives, Baljeet Mangra, 53, shot Mrs. Mangra in the basement of their house. Family members said they had been arguing over his drinking. They said that alcohol had been an issue before, and that she had kicked him out of the house in 2002.
But he was allowed to return because Mr. Mangra, his brother, thought he could turn his life around with a second chance.
Mr. Mohamed, Melissa, Monica and Michael, familiar with these arguments, were upstairs playing cards. They said they heard yelling, but no gunshots.
It was not until a strange smell started filling the house that they noticed that it was strangely quiet.
"As we went downstairs, we saw a hole in the gas meter," Mr. Mohamed said.
They covered the hole with tape, and when reached the foot of the stairs, they found that Mrs. Mangra had been shot.
Her brother-in-law was arrested two days later.
Since the shooting, the family has faced a hard road and tough decisions, which they have faced as they face everything, as a unified group. The emotional toll was one challenge. But there were financial implications, too.
Everyone who can work does. Their total monthly income is US$5,432,84, of which US$2,330.50 goes toward the monthly mortgage.
In the midst of their grief, the family found itself confronted by a difficult choice: pay the mortgage, or pay for their slain matriarch's funeral.
But the family found help. Farouk Samaroo, a community liaison in the office of Assem-blyman Brian M. McLaughlin, saw articles about the family in The New York Post and The Daily News and decided to get involved. He directed Annie to Catholic Charities, Diocese of Brooklyn and Queens, one of seven charities supported by The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund.
"At first I didn't want to call because, you know, we're new in this country," Annie said. But Mr. Samaroo gave her the confidence she needed, and a few days later, when Annie contacted the charity, she met Elsa Cerezo, a caseworker.
"They needed cash money, really, right away," said Ms. Cerezo, who secured US$2,330.52 of Neediest Cases money to pay the mortgage so the family could focus on the funeral. The Crime Victims Board also helped the family, donating US$6,000 toward the US$8,600 in funeral costs.
"It gave us a chance to save money for the mortgage, because where were we going to go?" Annie said.
The months since Mrs. Mangra's death have not lessened the pain and anger. But the family expressed gratitude for the help that fellow New Yorkers offered.
They still have the home that Mr. Mangra dreamed of giving to his wife, and they hope to realize Mrs. Mangra's vision by bringing her other children to live with them.
Meanwhile, they comfort one another and remember Mrs. Mangra and her dedication to her children and grandchildren.
"She's always happy," Monica said. "In my dream, my hands don't pass through her."