Officials are still working to piece together the events that led up to a grisly slaying in Burlington Thursday afternoon, when 34-year-old Aita Gurung allegedly killed his wife and tried to kill her mother at the family home in Burlington's Old North End.
Court records describe a horrific scene on the sidewalk in front of the family’s home. When police arrived, Gurung was standing over his wife with a meat cleaver in-hand. His mother-in-law was nearby on the front porch. Both women were bleeding profusely from the head and arms.
“There was just blood everywhere,” said Burlington Police Cpl. Jessica Norris, according to a police affidavit.
Chittenden County State’s Attorney Sarah George said she also visited the scene Thursday.
“It was heartbreaking,” George said. “You know, it's a quiet street and it was the middle of the day, and that sidewalk was covered in blood. The house was covered in blood. It was really heartbreaking. There's no other way to describe it.”
Friday morning, there was still blood visible on the front door of the family’s apartment, where Gurung lived with his wife, her parents and the couple’s child. Officials say the child was in school when violence broke out and is now staying with their grandfather under the supervision of the Department for Children and Families.
Less than a week before the killing, on Saturday, Oct. 7, Gurung reported to police that he’d been involved in a domestic violence incident the previous night. Chief Brandon del Pozo said Burlington Police thoroughly investigated the report, looking for physical evidence of violence in the apartment and interviewing Gurung’s wife at work.
“They interviewed her there, she said ‘Yes, my husband is having some mental health issues. He does take medicine, I think he’s slipping off his meds. This is a problem, but I don’t think he committed a crime against me the night before,’” del Pozo said.
With no evidence to make an arrest, police sent Gurung to the University of Vermont Medical Center for voluntary treatment for mental health issues. That was Gurung’s last police contact before he was arrested, in blood-soaked clothing, Thursday.
According to police interviews with his father-in-law, Gurung left the hospital Thursday at around noon. His wife, Yogeswari Khadka, picked him up. Multiple witnesses to the attack said they noticed a hospital bracelet on Gurung’s wrist.
As officials try to make sense of the crime — Burlington’s second homicide in 2017 — they have a major blind spot: What happened between Saturday and Thursday at the hospital? Did anyone there have reason to think Gurung would be violent when he left?
George says it's unlikely those questions will ever be answered because Vermont courts typically refuse to grant subpoenas for hospital records. She said prosecutors ran into the same issue in the case of Steven Bourgoin, who sought treatment at UVM Medical Center last year not long before he allegedly drove up Interstate 89 against traffic until he hit a car carrying five teenagers, killing them all.
“In both cases, Mr. Bourgoin … and this case, we don’t have access to their medical records. We requested multiple times in the Bourgoin case and were denied. I imagine we will be in this case as well. And without that information, it’s really hard to tell what happened while they were there. We have no idea what conversations they had with their treating physicians,” George said.
Gurung is being held without bail in the custody of the Department of Mental Health pending an inpatient competency and sanity evaluation. As the judge issued that order through a Nepalese translator, Gurung kept his head bowed and didn’t visibly respond.
Correction 6:45 p.m. A previous version of this post misspelled Steven Bourgoin's first name. It has now been corrected.