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More Than 400 Attend Hindu Services for Hijacking Victims

September 15, 1986|KRISTINA LINDGREN | Times Staff Writer

An overflow crowd of more than 400 mourners chanted in unison Sunday in a Westminster chapel where Hindu memorial services were held for Rajesh Kumar, the first person to die in a recent terrorist hijacking in Pakistan, and his 80-year-old grandmother, who was also slain.

Tearful relatives and friends from as far away as India, Africa and Great Britain gathered at Westminster Memorial Cemetery to remember the 29-year-old Huntington Beach man, who was shot by terrorists who stormed a Pan Am jetliner Sept. 5 in Karachi.

17 Others Remembered

But while they mourned Kumar and his maternal grandmother, Kunverben Patel, who was killed in a hail of gunfire at the end of the 16-hour ordeal on the runway at Karachi International Airport, they also remembered the 17 others who died in the bloody conclusion.

"It is symbolic of what has been happening around the world as people mourn, not just for the Patel family, but for all those who were killed," said James E. Baxter, western regional director for Pan American World Airways.

M. Garg, a spokesman for the Indian government's consulate in San Francisco, called on authorities to "punish the terrorists" and to "do something stronger against this menace of terrorism."

Kumar was escorting his grandmother and an aunt on their first trip outside the family village near Bombay. Aboard Pan Am Flight 73, other passengers told his family, Kumar stood when terrorists called out the name of a passenger who then fled to the rear of the Boeing 747.

Kumar reportedly shouted, "I am an American citizen and you can't do this." Those aboard said he was led to the front of the plane where he was shot in the back of the head and thrown to the tarmac below. He died at a Karachi hospital.

"He could have kept quiet, but he didn't," Garg told those assembled. "I pray for his soul, and I offer condolences to his family. I also offer condolences to relatives of all those who died. This tragedy lives in all of us."

Kumar's mother, Taraben Patel, was led sobbing loudly into the A-frame chapel, her face hidden under the long folds of her blue and white silk sari as she mourned the death of a son, her second loss of a son, and now the death of her mother, whom she had not seen in years.

Aunt Suffered Wound

Two women relatives followed, including Kumar's aunt, 45-year-old Gangaben Patel, who survived the hijacking with a minor gunshot wound to a hip. She had been flown by Pan Am to Southern California from Bombay for the weekend service.

"There should be trumpets blaring today because Rajesh died a hero's death, holding his treasured American citizenship like a shield for all the world to see," family friend Rosetta Cohen said during the hourlong service.

Kumar, who worked in the family's motel business, became an American citizen last July 11, more than eight years after he and his family came to the United States as tourists.

His youngest brother, 19-year-old Satish Kumar Patel, appeared shaken as he thanked those assembled for their "much needed support" and referred to the deep sorrow of his parents, who had lost their eldest son in a car accident several years ago.

"I am left here now by myself," said Satish Patel, his knuckles white as he gripped the podium, then turned to embrace his parents who rushed to him from a secluded area beside the altar.

He led them back to the curtained area from which they had watched the ceremony. Then he slammed a clenched fist against a wall.

Near Riot Mars Service

The ceremony was marred by a near riot, as relatives and friends of Kumar's estranged wife, Rekha Patel Kumar, prevented the motorcade of hearses and limousines from leaving for nearby crematoriums before she could arrive to view the bodies.

Many in the angry crowd said the Hindu religion guaranteed Kumar's wife, though she had filed for divorce in July, the right to view his body, but that his family had refused to allow her to attend.

Others, who refused to give their names, said Rekha Patel Kumar had been living with her in-laws at their home in Huntington Beach but had been "kicked out" Saturday night. Some said family members were trying to exclude her from an inheritance.

After more than an hour, she arrived. After more arguments and near fistfights among the men who railed at each other in their native language, she eventually was escorted inside by mortuary officials, who were overheard saying she would be permitted to view Kumar's body.

Cohen, who met the Patel family more than eight years ago when she sold them a motel in Huntington Beach, said they had received condolences from President Reagan, representatives of the U.S. State Department, members of Congress, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, the Orange County Board of Supervisors and Huntington Beach city officials.

No state department officials attended.

Pan Am representative Diane Roberts offered the Patel family "our sincerest condolences."

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