Robbers followed a Southern California couple home for miles and ripped valuable heirloom jewels out of the woman's hands in a terrifying attack partly caught on tape, officials said Wednesday.
Dr. Vijay Wali and his wife, Dr. Jyotika Wali, had just pulled into their driveway in Fullerton on Friday night when two men attacked, one pouncing on each of them, the family said.
The couple had just visited a jewelry store 16 miles away in Cerritos to have various family jewels polished.
As Jyotika was about to go into the house and Vijay was unloading the trunk, a man ran right at him, he said.
"So I started screaming, 'Jyotika, Jyotika, Jyotika, lock the door, lock the door, lock the door,'" Vijay Wali said in an interview Tuesday night.
The man punched Vijay Wali in the head and threw him on the ground, he said. When his wife returned to help, another attacker went right at her, the couple said.
The couple’s daughter, Dr. Priyanka Wali, was in the house. She said the first attacker yelled "take it from her, take it from her" at the second assailant in Spanish.
Jyotika Wali said: "I was immediately attacked by another man, and my purse was taken, and I saw my husband had been assaulted, and I screamed for help. My daughter was inside the house and called 911. But it was already over before you could understand" what had happened.
The men got away in two cars, a gray or silver Nissan Altima and a black Honda Odyssey, driven by two other men, Priyanka Wali said. The face of at least one attacker was clearly captured by security cameras at the house, while one of the two drivers was caught on camera at the jewelry store, the family said.
Fullerton Police Sgt. Ryan O’Neil said detectives are working on a "home invasion robbery," but he declined to elaborate.
"At this time, it is still an active and ongoing investigation," he said. "To protect the integrity of the investigation, we will not be releasing any information at this time."
The robbers' journey to follow the Walis was even more frightening, because the couple didn't go straight home from the jewelry store.
They "took some streets from the freeway, which we normally don't take," by making a quick stop at Jyotika Wali's office and checking out some nearby Christmas lights before they got home, her husband said.
The family said they have seen video of the attackers keeping an eye on the couple at the Cerritos jewelry store and at Jyotika Wali's office.
"They were highly organized and highly skilled at what they're doing," Priyanka Wali said. "This definitely didn't seem like their first time."
Among the items stolen was a dehjoor, a hexagonal jewel worn off the ear of a Kashmiri Hindu bride.
"And so it has deep, deep symbolic significance in our culture, and there were generations of jewelry stolen," said Priyanka Wali, who is engaged to be married and had expected to receive some of the jewels in ceremonies.
The family were traumatized by the attack, but both victims still went to work over the weekend. Jyotika Wali is a primary care physician who worked Saturday, while her husband is an emergency room doctor who did a shift on Christmas Eve.
"I'm scared to come back home," Jyotika said, adding that she now jumps in fear at the sounds of firecrackers she thinks might be gunshots.
She added: "This is no way to live. I mean, it looks like there is no law. It's very scary."
Priyanka Wali, also a practicing physician, said she's not sure whether her family will ever be able to shake the fear brought on by Friday night's attack.
"Emotional trauma and physical trauma are one and the same thing," she said. "So yes, we may be able to walk and talk and have all of our limbs and vital organs functioning, but emotionally the damage has been absolutely devastating."