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Loved ones gather for funeral of Nepali student killed in Woodlawn shooting, delayed by coronavirus restrictions

As a Hindu priest performed Sagar Ghimire’s funeral rites Sunday in Dundalk, several of his family members, including his father, watched through video chat, through cell phones trained on the ritual.

The proceedings for the 24-year-old, an international student from Nepal who was killed when a gunman opened fired outside his new home in Woodlawn last month, were delayed in part because many of his family members could not make it to the United States due to COVID-19 restrictions. After more than a month, they felt they could delay no longer.

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The U.S. embassy in Kathmandu is closed for visa services, and Nepali officials have only permitted a limited number of commercial flights to resume, according to the embassy website.

“These regular flights have extremely limited capacity to meet demand, and many are already fully booked through both June and July,” reads an embassy health alert dated June 8.

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“It was very very devastating and disheartening,” said state Del. Harry Bhandari, a Baltimore County Democrat who tried to arrange the family’s travel stateside. “I sent out all the paperwork to Kathmandu, reached out to the Kathmandu embassy, and unfortunately everything is locked down there because of COVID.”

During the service, loved ones rested white and yellow flowers and small handfuls of rice on Ghimire’s body, placed on a wooden pedestal and cloaked in bright orange cloth, as a priest sung mantras and sprinkled holy water in the air. The smell of incense filled the room in Dundalk’s Kaczorowski Funeral Home, with light peach walls and lush navy blue carpet with white and pink roses.

Uttam Gaulee, a Nepali professor at Morgan State University who teaches courses about higher education, attended Ghimire’s funeral Sunday after having only met him once over the phone. Ghimire, who had just graduated from South Carolina’s Claflin University and moved to the Baltimore area, called Gaulee seeking career advice just days before the shooting.

“He was talented. He had a helping spirit, and he didn’t stop when he graduated from Claflin University. He had proven himself, but he didn’t stop there. He wanted to pursue graduate education. He could have been my student at Morgan State University,” Gaulee said.

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Rizwan Alam, a Nepali international student from Kathmandu, said he often spent time with Ghimire during breaks from school. In the summer months, a large group of Nepali students would gather for sightseeing trips in Maryland, Washington D.C. and Virginia. Even though they attended different universities in the U.S., the group of friends was bound by their homeland, and always found a way to meet, Alam said.

Always, Ghimire’s mind was trained on his roots, Alam said. The politically-minded graduate aimed to learn all he could in the United States before returning to Nepal to effect change, said Alam, who lives and attends school in Michigan.

“He always had a plan to go back and do something for his country,” Alam said.

Ghimire was killed in a May 8 shooting in Woodlawn, when his neighbor Everton Brown went on a shooting spree that left three dead and one injured after setting fire to his own home. Ghimire and immigrant couple Sara Alacote and Ismael Quintanilla were killed. After police arrived, they shot and killed Brown, who neighbors said was driven by paranoid delusions that law enforcement agencies were surveilling him.

Several neighbors have said they felt threatened by Brown’s behavior, and reported it to law enforcement. One of his neighbors even filed for and received a peace order against him. Brown himself dialed the police more than 120 times over his years in Woodlawn, often to report items missing from his home, to accuse law enforcement officials of invading his property or to report confrontations with neighbors — and even a garbage man.

Police have declined to say whether they ever took Brown for an emergency psychiatric evaluation per Maryland law, although they did say he interacted with their crisis team.

The incident has raised questions about how officials approach mental illness concerns coming from citizens.

Bhandari said he plans to introduce legislation during the Maryland General Assembly’s next session to prevent “guns falling into the wrong hands.”

That could mean strengthening the state’s so-called “red flag law,” a way for concerned Marylanders to petition state courts to remove firearms from people deemed to be a risk to themselves or others.

“We don’t want to lose such young minds — and no minds at all,” Bhandari said. “I will be doing my research, and see if we could stop such senseless tragedy,” Bhandari said.

Gaulee agreed, and called the state’s attorney’s office to investigate Brown’s case to stop similar tragedies.

“I’m ashamed today,” Gaulee said. “As a professor in this country, until justice is served for the family of Sagar, how can I look into the eyes of another international student and say: ‘Come to this country. This is safe’? I cannot.”

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