Lim Gabba’s mother had high hopes after they settled in Maryland from India six years ago. The single mom wanted to see her only child graduate from college to make a better life.
Two years later, on a quiet suburban street in Germantown, Preeta Gabba’s dream was shattered. A 63-year-old woman walked up to her, according to authorities, pulled out a snub-nosed revolver and shot her three times.
Her son’s hopes were shattered, too. The 22-year-old holed up in the apartment he had shared with his mother — drinking too much and barely sleeping, by his account. He tried to return to college courses but flunked. “I lost the only family I had,” he said.
Three years passed, with the winding court proceedings in the Montgomery County case finally coming to a close Monday when the shooter, Raminder Kaur, 66, was sentenced to life in prison.
“She was the executioner in this case,” Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy said Monday. “And she will die in prison.”
Gabba was in court, quietly watching, a testament to perseverance.
He has cut back on his drinking, moved in with a large Indian family, started managing a restaurant, joined a cricket league and is taking online math and computer courses, pursuing a cybersecurity degree from the University of Maryland University College. Gabba visits his mother’s grave once a week, bringing flowers and telling her about his life.
“He has come out of his shell,” said Moses Reddy, an owner of the Masala Wok restaurant where Gabba works. “I see hope in his eyes.”
“I am getting better at life,” is how Gabba puts it.
His saga is far less known than the story of his mom’s killing.
Kaur was married to Gabba’s mother’s ex-husband, Baldeo Taneja, a PhD-level biostatistician and longtime Amway businessman. Taneja and Kaur, who lived in Tennessee, had grown furious about his alimony to Gabba’s mother, their trials showed. They plotted their attack, drove to Maryland and ambushed Preeta Gabba as she walked on a street, then slipped off to a nearby Amway conference hoping to establish an alibi. In subsequent trials, Kaur and Taneja, also 66, were convicted of first-degree murder.
“This was the most emotionless, premeditated, cold act that I think a lot of us have seen,” Assistant State’s Attorney Marybeth Ayres said in court.
Preeta Gabba grew up in an orphanage in India, married, and had Lim. Lim’s father died before their son’s 10th birthday, leaving Preeta Gabba to emphasize the importance of education and hard work to their child.
Lim’s mother later married Taneja. He moved to the United States, with plans that she and her son would follow. By the time they did, Taneja was involved with Kaur, and Gabba’s mother filed for divorce.
On Oct. 12, 2013, Gabba and his mother awoke to her usual Saturday routine: Preeta Gabba packed a sandwich and got ready for her job doing clerical work at a moving company. She said goodbye as she left the house and began a walk to a bus stop.
A short time later, Gabba heard a knock on the door. Two uniformed police officers began talking to him. They showed him his mother’s driver’s license. They matched it with a photo in the apartment. They told him she had been shot, and they would take him to the hospital to try to see her.
The officers walked Gabba to a patrol car. On the way, he looked down the road. He saw his mother’s umbrella, bag, purse and sandwich. Later, in a letter to the judge, Gabba told of going to the hospital, waiting alone in a room to see his mom but never getting the chance.
“That day I lost faith in God,” Gabba wrote.
Detectives quickly put their case together. They caught up with Taneja and Kaur in Tennessee and found two guns in their car — including the murder weapon — along with a wig, hair dye and cash. The two were brought to Maryland to await trial.
Gabba retreated into seclusion.
“If I slept, it was only for a few hours before being awaken by nightmares,” he wrote. “I started smoking and drinking because being drunk felt it would take the pain away. But it just got worse.”
Kaur and Taneja were convicted in 2014 after a trial during which Gabba testified. The Maryland Public Defender’s Office promptly requested a new trial for Kaur, arguing that one of their lawyers provided ineffective counsel to her. That touched off a series of hearings, delays and a retrial.
“You try to move the worst memories to the back of your mind,” Gabba said, “but the case kept bringing everything back.”
A new friendship helped. Gabba met Mohammad Rana, a native of Pakistan, who was reeling from his uncle’s death in nearby Gaithersburg.
On Jan. 23, 2014, Rana’s uncle — a 7-Eleven store clerk — was straightening coffeepots at the store when a stranger with a long history of mental illness approached from behind and stabbed him dozens of times, according to prosecutors. A suspect is charged.
The killing made Rana understand the depths of his friend’s loss.
His uncle was not one of his closest relatives, Rana said, and Rana had lots of family living with him. “Lim had no one,” Rana said.
Rana encouraged him to play cricket, a sport Gabba had played in India. He got him to talk more.
“If you keep it inside,” Rana remembers telling Gabba, “it’s going to come up, and it’s going to come out the wrong way.”
Gabba’s faith has returned. He moved in with an Indian family, who took him in as one of their own. He met Reddy, who hired him to be the manager at his restaurant, where Gabba supervises 17 staffers and works with suppliers and vendors. “I trust him implicitly,” Reddy said.
In court Monday, the prosecutor recalled trial testimony in which Preeta Gabba’s boss said she had immediately known something was wrong that October morning when Preeta Gabba did not show up for work because “Preeta was always early,” Ayres said. “She was the hardest working employee that she had ever had.”
Ayres said Lim Gabba throughout the extended proceedings was unfailingly polite, helpful and trusting.
She spoke of the need to remember “who Preeta was, and what she has left us, and that is Mr. Gabba, who is probably the best thing she could have left in this world.”