IN A suspected hate crime, an Indian engineer was killed and another was injured after an American Navy veteran allegedly opened fire on them in a bar in Kansas City, shouting “terrorist” and “get out of my country”, at around 7:15 pm (local US time) on Wednesday. An American who tried to intervene was also injured in the attack.
According to the Kansas City Star newspaper, Srinivas Kuchibhotla, 32, who worked in aviation systems for Olathe-based Garmin Ltd, and his colleague Alok Reddy Madasani, 32, were having a drink at a local bar-and-grill when they had an altercation with the shooter, Adam Purinton, 51, who reportedly shouted racial slurs. Purinton provoked them into an argument, questioning their presence and work in the US, and asking them how they were better than him, said the report.
According to the police, Purinton left the bar after the argument and then returned with a gun. He reportedly shouted “get out of my country” and “terrorist” before shooting them, killing Kuchibhotla and injuring Madasani. An American national, Ian Grillot, 24, who tried to intervene was injured in the attack. Purinton was arrested five hours after the incident and charged with murder and attempted murder.
Kansas City Star said Purinton, a Navy veteran with an inactive pilot licence, told a bartender in Clinton, Missouri, where he was hiding after the shooting, that he had killed “two Middle Eastern” persons. He has been charged with premeditated first-degree murder and his bond has been set at $2 million.
The shooter worked as an air traffic controller in Olathe. He earlier worked at the Federal Aviation Administration, but left in 2000, Kansas City Star reported.
Purinton had a reputation as both a troubled man and a typical helpful neighbour. He could often be seen outside, beer in hand, and would complain about his health and grieve about his father’s death about a year ago, Kansas City Star reported.
“I never saw his temper or anything like that,” said Michael Shimeall, who moved to Purinton’s neighborhood in 2009 and became friendly with the man, who, some say, could be reclusive.
“He’d come out and talk, but he was usually pretty inebriated,” said Beverly Morris, who has lived next door to Purinton for nearly two decades. “I’ve never seen him drink hard liquor, but lots of beer.”
In an interview from his hospital, Grillot said that he hid behind a table when Purinton opened fire. He counted the gunshots and when he thought the shooter was out of bullets, he jumped up to stop him. But Purinton still had one round left, and he used it to shoot at Grillot.
The bullet went through his hand and into his chest. “I’m just very grateful that one of the gentlemen is fine and alive. It’s terrible what happened to his friend. But I think he was watching over us last night,” he said.
Grillot said he learned that Madasani’s wife is five months pregnant and that he considers the engineer his new best friend.
The local authorities refused to say whether the shooting was a hate crime, although local police said they were working with the FBI to investigate the case. “It was a tragic and senseless act of violence,” Olathe Police Chief Steven Menke was quoted as saying.
“The FBI is investigating to determine if the shooting of Kuchibhotla was a bias-motivated hate crime in violation of the victims’ civil rights,” Eric Jackson, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Kansas City office told reporters at a news conference.
Asked if the presence of federal authorities indicated the shooting could be considered a hate crime, Jackson said it was too early to determine.
This is the first suspected racist attack involving an Indian victim since US President Donald Trump assumed office last month. Last month, The Baltimore Sun had reported that an Indian-American woman, reportedly the inspiration for Hindi film Swades, was stopped by police during her morning stroll in her hometown and questioned about her immigration status.
Expressing shock over the killing, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said two Indian consulate officials from Houston have been rushed to Kansas to render all possible assistance.
“I am shocked at the shooting incident in Kansas in which Srinivas Kuchibhotla has been killed. My heartfelt condolences to bereaved family,” she tweeted. “I have spoken to Indian Ambassador in US Mr Navtej Sarna. He informed me that two Indian Embassy officials have rushed to Kansas,” she said.
The Ministry of External Affairs’ official spokesperson, Vikas Swarup, said Kuchibhotla and Madasani hailed from Hyderabad and Warangal respectively, and were working at Garmin in Olathe (Kansas).
“Houston Deputy Consul R D Joshi and Vice Consul Harpal Singh will meet the injured and facilitate in bringing the mortal remains of the deceased. They will be in touch with local police officials to ascertain more details of the incident and monitor follow-up action,” said Swarup. They will also meet the community members in Kansas, he said.
According to Garmin, Kuchibhotla and Madasani worked in the company’s aviation systems. “Unfortunately, two associates on our aviation systems engineering team, Srinivas Kuchibhotla and Alok Madasani, were shot. We are devastated to inform you that Srinivas passed away and Alok is currently recovering in the hospital,” Garmin said.
The US Embassy in New Delhi condemned the incident and said American authorities would thoroughly investigate and bring the case to justice.
“We are deeply saddened by this tragic and senseless act. Our deepest sympathies are with the victims and their families. The US is a nation of immigrants and welcomes people from across the world to visit, work, study, and live… US authorities will investigate thoroughly and prosecute the case, though we recognise that justice is small consolation to families in grief,” said US Chargé d’Affaires MaryKay Carlson.