Priti Patel, Phillip Mongeau, and Ann Abraham
DescriptionBest friends, Priti Patel (47), Phillip Mongeau (40) and Ann Abraham [no age given] discuss the day 10 years ago that they all became not just friends but also siblings. That day Priti's life changed forever, when her brother took the lives of both their parents and then took his own. They discuss how through this loss, they formed a non-profit, Our Seva, to give back to their community.
Subject Log / Time Code
Recording LocationDallas Public Library: North Oak Cliff Branch
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00:06 My name is Brady Patel. I'm 47 years old. Today's date is Wednesday, October 23rd. 2019. I'm in Dallas Texas name of my interview partners are Ann Abraham and Philip Mojo my relationship to them are my two best friends.
00:25 So print on the morning of October 7th.
00:31 I will need to know. All right Phillip Mojo and I am 40 years old. Today's date is Wednesday, October 23rd, 2019 in Dallas, Texas Hotel and Ann Abraham here with me and likewise are my best friends.
00:49 Hi, I'm and Abraham and I'm 40 something. Today's date is Wednesday, October 23rd, and I'm in Dallas Texas. I'm with my friends print and Phillip.
01:05 Separate on the morning of October 7th of 2009
01:11 I was in my office in Mesquite fire department Mesquite, Texas, and I received a phone call from a family member of yours.
01:19 Asking me to bring you home with no explanation of why I should bring you home.
01:27 It was a day that changed my life. I'm a moment that changed my life and a time that I believe change yours as well curious beginning with that time frame with that moment meant to you and how we walked that forward.
01:45 Yeah, we worked in the same building and together and you came into my office. And you said hey, I need to take you home. And so we got in the car with one of our colleagues is a really good friend Chad Rose and we drove to my house.
02:02 We got to my house Chad who's kind of the older brother protective type 2 said he will wait outside and Ice to know you'll go I'm good and thankful Tuesday because I walked into my home and I found my mom my dad and my brother deceased and I screamed and you heard me thankfully. Thank God you're hurting me.
02:26 I remember that moment when you came running out the door and 10. Both were standing in front of your car and his work truck and it came running out of the home and think it's one of those moments that Frozen in your memory of of taking a moment to really understand what's going on because it was as far out of the realm of possibility has human possibly as possible. So
02:55 I think from that moment we came inside I distinctly remember dialing 911 after walking all the way into your home and and seeing what we saw.
03:08 And just reporting 911 that there was a triple murder. I'm I distinctly remember those words coming out of my mouth and you looking at me in disbelief that there was that we were saying that and then the moments that transpired we're just somewhat chaotic unknown shock but those moments where I'm certainly a sense and taste and I feel that I have that I can still taste and feel in here today.
03:43 And the most ironic thing is all three of us working Public Safety.
03:48 We're usually the people that help people.
03:51 Absolutely. Yeah. I know. We're call the people that came to our aid for those in our common service. Absolutely. I think it's one of those blessings in Disguise. That was
04:03 One of those relationships that you don't know that you'll ever have to rely on but the gentleman and the City of Irving and her colleagues in Mesquite certainly came quickly to our Aiden.
04:19 I just remember everything seemed to like pods. But then I remember at some point two very distinct things.
04:31 It was a cold wet October and I was barefoot because the home was a crime scene in my my shoes were in there and sometime later which felt like several hours later. Someone eventually asked me to need anything and I said sucks. I just want sucks. It's the only thing I need I want.
04:50 And then the other part which is the moment that really took my breath away like I felt like I stop breathing for a long time. We were at the police station that the victims in the victims of counseling room or something and you and Chad were sitting next to me.
05:07 And a woman came in a counselor to come talk to me and you both squeeze me really tight and I knew she was going to say something that I already knew. She said your brother left a note.
05:19 World Changers
05:24 I recalled distinctly recall seeing you standing on the front sidewalk of your home and in my images, I can't see your face. I see your feet see that image and I was on the back of a police car riding my statement you were in the back of a car having an interview to try to understand this tragedy from the city's perspective. And then I fast forward the same as you were in the interview room and a room there at the police station and it's as if you suddenly I had that realization that you had no shoes earlier in the day you suddenly realize to your point that you had no shoes and as we go forward in the story, that's
06:12 I think a memory of mine that ties back to our service that will talk about this as just this irony of
06:20 This tragedy and you literally lost everything your whole world, including your shoes or Barefoot and lost and so that love those memories as well and then as the realization
06:36 Reality came to lighten of what it happened and then note your brother and Ann as you did your best absorb that as we sat there with you was
06:49 Again, one of those markers that you can recall. And again this role that I have in your life and your brother losing your brother plays out through the story.
07:05 I remember when you guys finally had to leave me at the police station and I went to a good friends home. I remember yours in Chadds faces and there was so much pain I could see so tell that you didn't want to leave me or your insurer. Like there was this fear and that's what I sent from you that was there, but for me at that moment once we actually were out at the police station and we're about to depart my only concern was seeing my sister. I just needed my sister who is a few states away to get here. We need it to be together and I think you always talk about that moment a lot. I just remember like for me on that day. I was at work and I came or like one of your neighbors called me and told me what happened and I could not believe it. I just couldn't I just talked to your brother just a few days ago, so I couldn't believe that it happened in. I remember that. I was getting rid I had class at night cuz I was in grad school and I skip class and his
08:05 On the way over to see you. I remember like her life is never going to be the same her life is never really saying and then when I got there that night, I mean like, you know, I couldn't believe like how well you are. I mean like you are so in control and I kept asking what do you need? What do you want in your life? I just want my sister. She's coming here and like you were holding on for your sister and I think one of the things that sometimes it's hard but people have had trouble understanding is my brother loved all of us deeply you love my parents deeply but sometimes things happen and situations occur that happened but we grew up in a home that was so loving and we enjoyed each other's company strong sense of faith, and I just a good healthy childhood and
08:59 I know we've talked about this a lot. But one of the things that's hardest hardest of all things for people to understand is I was never angry with him. I understood what he did, but I was never angry with him because I knew who he was at the core and he was a good guy. He was my best friend. I loved him and I always say I love him the most I really did. So when you leave an in into the story and I think back to that moment in the police parking lot when Chad and I were at a loss. What do we do now? It was
09:38 Second nature to us to be if I can say to be men and to just be physically there for you to throw arm around you to assure you through the difficulties of what was a headbutt.
09:52 We both stood at each other. Even after you left you saw that look in her eyes, but even after you left, we're like
10:00 What do we do like literally what we do and then I think later that night I text or called you to make sure that everything is okay at your family's housing. And you remember you saying the same thing and and that and was here and that you are waiting your sister's arrival and how important it was to you and I had talked to your cousin. I was the first one to make that call earlier in the day and knowing intellectually knowing what was in motion behind you and your inability to process that just to know I think that was the first point for me to realize cuz we were colleagues you're my employee and then my colleague and my friend and I didn't know your community and I think once and was weed into that I had that realization like
10:50 Oh, wait a minute.
10:52 She has a grander community here to support her into to carry this forward. It wasn't Chad and I feeling we felt I can speak for Chad that we felt like we failed to reset your home alone. And then once we here and then I hear today that that you open the door and there was a whole nother Community there. So it carried forward and continues to carry forward to one of the things that you just mentioned was that you never felt any anger and I was taught if she would only feel anger maybe it would hurt so much and I mean like I don't know grief. But yeah, I feel like I was probably angry enough for both of us. So I just thought I'd that's just something it's really interesting to me like you fell doing corporate ice for a while. I couldn't even hear his name cuz I was so angry.
11:43 I can totally understand that you've always been super overprotective of me, too.
11:50 So then we move a little forward right? I mean the Years start to come back come come along and this past October 7th was 10 years and years of life and yours is getting married fill up and having children and new jobs in you lies. And so much has happened in this journey the three of us had and you two were my very good close friends before that day, but you became my family on that day, and I'm grateful for two new siblings.
12:19 Every call you another.
12:23 Moment in time that I recall so vividly as you saying over and over that just last night on October 6th.
12:33 I booked a hotel for wedding with my brother my brother and I sat there and booked a hotel. How could this be possible that I could sit there and book a hotel with him as if
12:45 Normal thing was different than the next day the whole world changed. And so we speak regularly about impacts to me and my family getting married with a stepdaughter, you know, just a couple months after such a tragic event yet. It's all I can remember in relation to my marriage is the life that you've given our family I'm in as we as we stepped forward and we look back now. Look forward and backwards 10 years is that's the only thing I wrote recalled the impact our family has nothing negative at all. The the tragedy has done nothing to my marriage to my family to my children my now three children except to give life to it. And so it is that's the beauty of the story so much lost but even greater
13:39 Greater Giving and greater life came out of and is continuing to come out of it. I remember the first two years really really vividly especially just you know for you and like all the time we spent together because there were so many moments where you know, you were hurting and I just remember what are things that got you through a lot of it is just how much not just your the friends that showed up for you but like your work colleagues your people who played French rolls in your life for all coming up to you and ask you, how can we help? What can I do and like it gave you strength to know that these people valued you and wanted to do things and you didn't have an answer for that. But you wanted to fill that you wanted someplace to put all that energy and to me like, you know, if it was like for most normal people I always say this like, I mean, I've always told my family for most normal people.
14:39 Like, you know, I would be holed up in like a small cave somewhere and become a recluse or something crazy like that. But for you you went out to the world and I mean like I'm not trying to put you on a pedestal but you know, it was something amazing what you did from that from from that day for it. Just the person you became like he's like so upset you you changed his family. Are you became like an integral part of his family and you know, but for me, it's like what you've done not just with close personal relationships, but with the community-at-large and the way I relate that very same sentiment to my friends and family as I share the story which I have opportunities to multiple times a year just seems like there's an opportunity to share the the beauty out of the tragedy is I would be still laying behind the couch sucking my thumb rocking like
15:39 Leaving today 10 years later. I'm yet. We see it across the sea from is here symbol of strength. So October 7th 2009 relatively quickly lots of grief and lots of confusion in between your approached and and I am with a concept with an idea of how to move forward. It wasn't us that came to you of how to overcome grief you came to us asking how they could help and I could tell that because of the
16:14 Size of this tragedy and that it was very public that people that were on the kind of the fringes were coming in and everybody was seeking connection. They were seeking to help a neighbor have to have their own pain and we needed to put that pain in that energy somewhere. And so I wanted to start a nonprofit and I remember the email I wrote because these words were so important to me is y'all have been asked me what you could do for me? I thought we could do something together.
16:44 And out of that was born are set up.
16:47 Am I grabbing at home the very strong sense of faith? And I think that's are the for the three of us are other big connection. Is it to her Catholic? I'm Hindu but we all grew up with a strong sense of faith. And we individually as adults have strong sense of Faith butts Eva. This word is such a powerful word means selfless service in the Hindu faith and it was a word that was used in our home all the time because several does not mean you need to go out and conquer the world. That means you could help your parents or your grandparent when you see the need to get up be mowing a neighbor's lawn whatever it means to you, but it is serving without not want not thinking about what you're going to receive in return and so
17:30 I asked you both what you thought about this and I'm so grateful. You said let's do this and ourselves a good Saturday will have its ninth project.
17:40 And that is the best thing I get to do for the worst reason that it started but that community and all the people that were on the fringes are not on the fringes. Where were the strong community of 250 friends and families particularly the children always talk about the children just how much I realized every year or impacting their lives and their sense of community and service to community and understanding that they're not alone, which I feel like sometimes gets lost in today's world.
18:13 And again those
18:16 Moments in time that you remember, I don't have an exact date while we know that are several was officially founded in February of 2011 some time. But before then probably speaking through the grief. I know the grief wasn't gone. It's not gone today. There's still a lot of pain there. But you as you spoke through that and you began speaking about the before the official email came out to friends of how you can serve it in our conversations just of of the idea that you know, the way through this is through service and you spoke so often about your dad. I think we joke a lot. I'm the generic white guy with two Indian women the Catholic the saltine cracker as I like to call myself with a Hindu in a Catholic Indian who would have thought in Mesquite, Texas, right? I mean that there is no
19:16 More diverse relationship integration here. Then then our group of our Board of the three founders let alone the extrapolation of that in our projects, but I just I can distinctly
19:34 Recall talking to Joyce my wife about and she's going to be okay. I think she's going to be okay because you know through my faith through my Catholic faith through and that that is the way right Services way whether it's a jokingly call you the Mother Teresa of Hinduism or whether it's other Saints whether it's all her other people we looked up to in our culture. It was always their service. I was through pouring yourself out further, which is what no one would expect that their tragedy in so much lost. You would then give more I'm sorry remember that conversation with Joyce and I think she's going to be okay. I think she's going to be all right that she's going to you know, and so it said it was born but also a hope for you was born out of out of that far family.
20:30 Well, I mean as you said my dad was such a big influence in my life, which everybody that knows me knows that but he used to always say, you know, when I take that last breath, I take it alone. No one's going with me and as much as I love my children and my wife and everyone and lots of other people my parents and one leaves with you. And so when you take that last breath, this life must have meant something and must have had some purpose and after they passed that I knew that and I believe that pay really believed it because the Niners could like to be fragile how fragile it could be. And so though, I'd volunteered all my life now this became for my heart was just wanting needing craving to serve.
21:15 Our community and so I'm so proud of our 7 to work we've done I'm so proud of the diversity with none of us plan to wear such a diverse community of friends that have come together to serve our community to teach our children. But I hear my dad's voice every year when we do the welcome and kick off and just these little seeds he planted in Us by using the word 7 we were small children and then his own Evolution with his faith which allowed me to learn more from him as I was in my 30s. I hear those words his words so many times during the year was particularly dreamhorse Eva.
21:53 So interesting cuz like you both are talking up service, but for me what I always think about 4, I mean, I know it's 7 means that for me but 7 would I get of is an image of strength and you know resilience the ability to bounce back and you know, give back from from that from low points in your life to grow from that and so I always find it fascinating because I know of Tober such a hard month for you, but our project is always October. So it's like you become one person who sat in October, but another person when it's project time and like you get out there and you do what you need to do, even though your heart may be breaking sometimes and that to me is like the definition of strength and resilience. So kind of joked earlier, but in reality do
22:46 Compare you sometimes to a Mother Teresa and one of the things that the culture in our Catholic culture people were shocked about in her journals after she passed was that she doubted write-in in amongst her?
23:01 Saintly life. She regularly wrote about down in God and I think that's again a relation that I think about that is, you know, it's not that you were and I'm not hurting and aren't hurting today. Not that you it's that you chose to act out of out of that pain. And so so we traded our 7 with your vision and like you to share a little bit about what what that is what it actually is an attendance you shared with us of what you wanted it to be in when you passed it off to our first executive board and we created this real organization of of what your services grape. What is that? What is that to you? And what do you intend it to be?
23:45 The one thing I want to say before, I forget that very first night that I laid my head down on October 7th 2009. I laid my head down and I asked for all the things that God would probably expect this task for which has strengthened peace and all of those things but I have been an idea since I came out of the room based on stories. I've heard from my my phone. And so I asked God I said I've been and I deal with my entire life, please don't take it away from me. I cannot lose that. I feel like it's this gift. You've given me and what's crazy when I look back now, it's stronger. It was Stronger it stronger today than it was on that day and before that day.
24:27 And so again my my father he used to always said if you have food shelter and clothing and you have a greater responsibility on this Earth doesn't matter what your income level is or what your home looks like you have more than what a lot of people have and so we started set up.
24:46 Am I really wanted to concentrate on food and shelter and so now every October we rehabbed the Holmes the actor of homes for seniors veterans anyone in need. I think we've completed somewhere close both. But after this weekend probably close to 40 homes over the or 9th December 9th project and Ann in April. We raise money for children for children's meals at schools children whose families don't qualify for free or reduced meaning that they might make this a little bit more then what that threshold is and so we raise money to pay for their lunches and their breakfast so that they can have a full lunch tray. So our Focus has food and shelter and other such basics in life and in life and things that we take for granted and yet there's so many people in our community that struggle with those two basic needs some also very proud of the fact that we're
25:46 I know there's so many things we could have tackled, but we're just tackling basic things.
25:53 Yeah, we speak. I'm regularly in my home about when we're struggling over having disagreements as it always comes back like you know, what we need to do. We just need to focus on the basics Even in our daily lives. And so it read think it rings true for most people to recognize that but Thang secondary.
26:17 Purpose of tsavo and we spoke to it but then I think is critical is that
26:23 The work the outcome of the work to provide better shelter and Food for People is the primary but the secondary is the work itself, right and we speak a lot and I think
26:37 That you have made sure that is you mentioned with children that there's not that many opportunities for children to physically serve and see service obvious service, right? There's probably service around them, but
26:54 And so while we do this great work, there is a very real and tangible lesson being taught to the adults from the people we serve from the veterans that maybe in their 90's from the elderly from the less than fortunate person that we might be serving. We seen many tears over the years to I've had two children now born from the womb through service. I know the Levi and Bernadette have both served in the womb with my wife and I both love Sarah they love to serve with misprint more than anything probably all year. Right and it's this work it's work. They're not they're not just running around there working. And so it's I think we can easily put a statistic out there. We've done 40 homes and we serve somebody meals, but let's intangible.
27:54 Is that
27:57 The seven the what the
28:01 Generic society would say is the Pay It Forward, right? We that is going to be intangible. It already is 10 years in as it's ingrained in my family for my fourteen-year-old daughter Julia to Bernadette at 5. They they know and it's not from what dad's taught them. I can repeat till I'm blue in the face. That's what they've seen inside of us. So I think I'm in many ways that has become a primary, you know outcome of such good to giving out of our out of our abundance and out of our needs why is that we physically change the homes of the other folks we serve but we always realized when the days over that we've given them hope and that's the bigger gift. That's the picture again cuz normally for serving someone is because there may not there's usually not someone in their life to help them with the work that we're doing the during the day and so for them to see us
29:01 Little children painting and planting trees and doing all these things. We always hear from the homeowners that that's what they love the most. Yes, my ramp is billed but my heart is full.
29:14 Yeah, pretty think back to.
29:19 I believe October 2011 was our first project. Correct? We did a phone to board in favor of 11 and then served our first time and there's that picture with the elderly gentleman that turns would never been married over tears in his eyes. There's a community around him of every color in the book and you can see the overwhelming sense that he probably hadn't been around more than one or two people in years, but I want to ask you to speak a little bit too. So we have the actual outcome of food and shelter we have the secondary nature of
30:02 Of the
30:04 Service and learning service, but the community is another large piece of this and you made a commitment you made a commitment to the community that was there for you first off and and we carry that forward to feel speak just Tamara Monaco in your commitment that you made when?
30:24 When the date of tragedy happened with Phillip and I were working for the City of Mesquite in Texas and that Community world around me so much too and by that comedian Damien employees. I really did.
30:40 Support me in so many different ways and when we were forming orsova and wanting to serve back that was my home. I spent most of my time there like we all do what we work. It was my home. That was my family. Those were the people that supported me that wear my life day today. And so when we decided to start the service project, I made a commitment at the time are John Monaco that we would serve Mesquite for 5 years and we did we didn't really know what we're doing the first year, but we realized we can do this. We got this and from there up from there, you know, we kind of grew and
31:19 And now we're out on her own in Lewisville, Texas. We started our route we've repeated what we learned in this heat and have formed our own way of serving others on this day and a community has grown even bigger or the new city, but I think we talked about this a lot is people want to serve given the opportunity and we seen that we were seated in a wave move to Lewisville, Texas and you know didn't have weird kind of doing it on her own that when you provide the opportunity people show up cuz they're just craving it and they're looking for it.
31:57 And I think it's as we speak about our community in the weave, I somewhat jokingly poke fun at the diversity and I think for the last several years anyways on the morning of our service project. I have made the comment that we serve the same God. I am a Catholic lifelong Catholic devout Catholic. If you will you're a devout Hindu and yet while our religious tenants would not say
32:34 That it may be the same. I know and it's through experience through tragedy. It's through the knowledge of your actions and your service and through the knowledge of what I know and believe in my experience that it's the same God and so it's the same Community, you know, joking being a Saltine cracker generic white guy. It's the same. We're the same people are going to think that's this again that these other tenants that are taught to each us, each of us through, you know, had you never been an intern in the city Mesquite. I do never accepted the position to work for me and then be in the city manager's office and then and then and then I would not know these things growing up in a pretty generic household. So I think that you know, I think it's again one of those things. That's just
33:29 Going back to what you said about, you know are different face, but it is something insulting eulogy to print is that our faith is strong between the three of us and we also have service in common and I think that that is what's ever really is is like it embodies faith and service and community and and I know how much those things matter to you and I'm so glad that we have this organization and your friends. I will do like all your good friends the ones that you have they all embody these three characteristics.
34:00 Knows we're sitting here to him. I just thank God that he put both of you in my life. You know, I had known you about 5 years both of you independent of each other prior to what happened. And here we are, you know, we're all just living Our Lives going to grad school moving up the corporate ladder or government ladder or whatever it is. And then this moment changes our lives and you do find out who your friends and family that are going to be there with you in these moments. Not only have you just you've been with me. You've become my family and on the days that are the hardest for me when I never share with anybody. It's one of you that I call or both of you. You're my safety and life physically emotionally and every way
34:47 And I'm so grateful for both of you. I mean, I know I just can't imagine life without either one of you ever.
34:55 Thank you friend. I think that means more than
35:02 Then words can convey. I think the image that comes to mind for me is it was in fact your brother that called me the morning of October 7th, and I was the last person to speak with him.
35:18 How was the last voice that he likely heard?
35:22 And I like to believe that he was handing it off to me giving me his Brotherhood.
35:30 Is without words saying, alright. I need you to carry this forward. I need you to protect my sister. I know that I can't any longer.
35:40 And while initially I would say that that's a scary proposition and has been one of the greatest gifts in my life to be able to serve in that capacity. I do have an older sister, but to be handed that responsibility the gifted that responsibility is one of the greater gifts I've ever been given.
36:05 I mean I was going to come in here and not cry at all that you got me choked up a little bit earlier. So I just thank you for that. I've never had a sister but you know, you're my sister too. And I mean like I've learned so much for me. I see you is not just the sister all but the teacher role the mentor role the role model role so bad, but I think I think you kind of know that too. So the so grateful that you're in my life too even though
36:36 Separate where we go from here are seven or we going where we had in 10 years in 9 years.
36:48 Retired hopefully
36:52 It is my privilege to know you both and really high.
36:56 I love you both so much.
36:59 I love you, too.
37:01 I'm as we've said before my children are my top priority and you have a special connection with them at Levi particularly. If you get them to me, I would take him. I love him 14. You've been a really more of an example than I could ever provide a feather with a fellow woman for her to see that's not her. Mom. You can't make that up. You can't ask for something better than that. And so other some of the greatest gifts aside from our Chipotle lunch is on the patio or a glass of wine or just coming over or chatting over the phone.
37:50 Greatest gifts anybody could ask for thank you for your friendship over the years. I wouldn't be who I am without you and Chelsea, but that's here. And I mean like I'm also grateful for this opportunity. So thank you for that cuz I wouldn't happen without you.
38:08 Well, and you both know I wanted to record a story with my dad for storycorps, and I didn't come to be so I thank you for making a 15-year wish come true today. Thank you.