And Purna Acharya, 45, had spent his brief three years in this country steadily saving to open a sports school.
Then suddenly, their American Dreams were ended or interrupted, before they even really began. Each of the Nepali immigrants — members of one of the nation’s newest communities — were victims of an old American problem: workplace violence.
Bajgain was beaten to death as he worked as a cashier at a Sunoco in Herndon, Va., in July. Giri and Acharya were shot by a woman who opened fire on her co-workers at the Rite Aid Distribution Center in Harford County, Md., in September. The mass shooting took three lives, including Giri’s, and left Acharya with a gunshot wound in the stomach.
The tragedies have reverberated through the small but rapidly growing Nepali enclaves in the region over the past couple of months. Many like Bajgain, Giri and Acharya start at menial jobs, the first rung on the economic ladder in a new country. They often lack much in the way of benefits.
In addition, some Nepalis take out loans to begin their lives in the United States, and many don’t have or can’t afford life insurance to cushion spouses or children when tragedy strikes.
“People are very scared,” said Pradip Dhakal, a candidate for Herndon City Council who knew Bajgain. “People are asking about workplace safety. A lot of people who come from Nepal start working in gas stations, convenience stores or restaurants. Some of these jobs don’t have a lot of safety.”
Dhakal said he has urged members of the community to take out life insurance and get training to ensure they can move up to safer positions more quickly.
Thakur Dhakal, a cousin of Bajgain’s and no relation to Pradip, said Bajgain’s widow expects to get less than $100,000 from an insurance payout for his death. Bajgain is also survived by his 6-year-old daughter. Pradip Dhakal said the husband and wife worked alternate night and day shifts to care for their daughter.
Dhakal said GoFundMe campaigns have become a common way to help members of the community. One for Bajgain sought to generate $50,000, but after an outpouring of support it was shut down when nearly $85,000 was raised.
Thakur Dhakal said about 1,000 visitors have come to his home after Bajgain’s death, mostly Nepalis touched by the tragedy. He said he has in turn donated money to the families of the mass shooting in Harford County and reached out to them.
“He made a lot of friends in a very short time,” Dhakal said of his cousin.
The on-the-job risks faced by immigrants such as Bajgain were brought home in chilling detail during a preliminary hearing this month for the man charged in the killing. Fairfax County prosecutors played surveillance video from the Sunoco station that captured the final minutes of Bajgain’s life.
Sheriff’s deputies kept onlookers in court from sitting close enough to see details of the video, but Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Raymond F. Morrogh said it showed 19-year-old Mohamed Abdullahi stomping on Bajgain’s head, slamming his head into a counter and then bludgeoning Bajgain with a fire extinguisher.
Morrogh described it in court as a “savage, prolonged and brutal beating.”
The prosecutor did not offer a motive for the slaying, but police said they were called to the Sunoco for a report of a man attempting to steal cellphones in the area. A Fairfax County police officer who arrived on the scene testified that he found Abdullahi chasing another man through the Sunoco parking lot. Abdullahi was subdued with pepper spray.
Officer Jay Clarke testified that when he went inside the convenience store, he found a scene of “general chaos.” Racks were turned over, blood was spattered around, and he found Bajgain’s lifeless body behind the checkout counter, Clarke said.
The killing occurred about 1:15 a.m. July 4 — Bajgain’s first Independence Day in this country. Thakur Dhakal said Bajgain had come to the United States for economic reasons. In addition to the Sunoco, he worked at a Wegmans grocery store.
Senior Fairfax County public defender Robert Frank defended Abdullahi in court, saying that “it’s obvious in looking at the video Mr. Abdullahi did not have the intention of killing Mr. Bajgain.”
Giri is survived by her husband of 20 years, Kashiram, a daughter in the 10th grade and a son in the sixth grade. Kashiram sponsored his wife and two children to immigrate to the United States in May. He has been in the country for about five years and works at a liquor store.
Giri, one of about five Nepali workers at the Rite Aid Distribution Center, was yelling at workers to run before she was struck by bullets, said her friend Harry Bhandari. Acharya was also struck.
“She wanted to provide the best for her kids,” Bhandari said, noting that is why Giri brought her children to the United States. “Kids and family were everything to her.”