Prosecutors on Thursday charged a 51-year-old man with murder and attempted murder after he allegedly started shooting in a crowded suburban Kansas City bar, killing one man and injuring two others, in an attack that some witnesses said was racially motivated. Authorities repeatedly declined at a news conference to say whether the shooting was a hate crime although local police said they were working with the FBI to investigate the case.
WATCH | White House Condemns Kansas Shooting That Killed An Indian Engineer
A bartender at Austins Bar and Grill in Olathe, Kansas, said that Adam Purinton used “racial slurs” before he started shooting on Wednesday night as patrons were watching the University of Kansas-TCU basketball game on television.
Srinivas Kuchibhotla, 32, died at an area hospital, police said. Alok Madasani, 32, and Ian Grillot, 24, were hospitalised and are in stable condition, they said. The Linked-in accounts for Kuchibhotla and Madasani say that they were engineers working at GPS-maker Garmin and had studied in India.
Local, county, state and federal law enforcement authorities attended the news conference where the murder charges were announced. The accused has been charged with premeditated first-degree murder and his bond has been set at USD 2 million.
Asked if the presence of federal authorities indicated the shooting could be considered a hate crime, FBI special agent Eric Jackson said it was too early to determine. “This was a violent crime and we want the best prosecution that relates to this because there are victims of this crime and we want the community to know that … we’re looking to make sure that the individual involved in this is held accountable for his actions.”
Bartender Garret Bohnen told the Kansas City Star that Kuchibhotla and Madasani stopped at Austins for a drink once or twice a week.
“From what I understand when he was throwing racial slurs at the two gentlemen (Kuchibhotla and Madasani), Ian (Grillot) stood up for them,” Bohnen said. “We’re all proud of him.”
Witnesses also told the Star that Purinton yelled “get out of my country” before he opened fire.
Kuchibhotla and Madasani worked in the company’s aviation systems. “We’re saddened that two Garmin associates were involved in last night’s (Wednesday night) incident, and we express our condolences to the family and friends of our co-workers involved. Garmin will have grievance counsellors on-site and available for its associates today and tomorrow,” Garmin said in a statement.
Grillot said in an interview from his hospital bed that when the shooting broke out, he hid until nine shots had been fired and he thought the suspect’s gun magazine was empty.
“I got up and proceeded to chase him down, try to subdue him,” Grillot said in a video from the University of Kansas Health System posted on the Star website. “I got behind him and he turned around and fired a round at me.” Grillot said that the bullet went through his hand and into his chest, just missing a major artery.
“It’s not about where he (victim) was from or his ethnicity,” Grillot said. “We’re all humans, so I just did what was right to do.”
GoFundMe pages were started to help pay expenses for all three of the victims.
U.S. Senator Jerry Moran of Kansas posted a statement on Facebook saying that he was very disturbed by the shooting. “I strongly condemn violence of any kind, especially if it is motivated by prejudice and xenophobia,” Moran said.
Purinton was taken into custody just after midnight on Thursday morning at an Applebee’s about 70 miles to the southeast of Olathe in Clinton, Missouri, authorities said.
Assistant Clinton Police Chief Sonny Lynch said an Applebee’s bartender summoned police to the bar where the man was drinking because he said he’d been involved in a shooting. The unarmed Purinton was taken into custody and interviewed by detectives from Olathe.
“He mentioned he had been involved in a shooting and we went out there and picked him up,” Lynch said.
The bar where the shooting took place was closed Thursday, with a sign in the door that said it would remain closed indefinitely.
The hate crime has sent shock waves among Indian-American and the Indian community across the United States. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of Srinivas Kuchibhotla,” said Jay Kansara, director of Government Relations at Hindu American Foundation. “We are also praying for a speedy recovery for the injured. We call upon the US Department of Justice and local law enforcement to investigate this murder as what it is, a hate crime.
“Anything less will be an injustice to the victims and their families,” he said.
Kansara said that the HAF thanks those who put themselves at risk to stop this attack or to bring the perpetrator to justice. “It is these acts of heroism in our communities that make America great,” he said.
A GoFundMe page has also been set up to help raise funds for sending Kuchibhotla’s remains to India.
The shooting incident comes at a time when hate crimes and acts of bigotry have risen notably during the recent months in America.
A Jewish cemetery was vandalised in St Louis, Missouri last week and the offices of Jewish civil society organisations have received bomb threats. A man was removed from a Chicago-Houston flight after levelling racist taunts at Pakistani and Indian passengers.