Despite a huge outcry from many Indian and South Asian organizations for the murder of an Indian American engineer in Olathe, Kan., to be investigated as a hate crime, police have said it is not jumping to any conclusions.
Around 7:15 p.m. Feb. 22 at Austin’s Bar and Grill, after a regular bar patron told Navy veteran Adam Purinton, 51, to stop shouting out racial slurs, the man allegedly said, “Get out of my country,” to Indian American engineers Srinivas Kuchibhotla and Alok Madasani and opened fire, the Kansas City Star reported (see previous India-West article here).
The shooter wounded Kuchibhotla, 32, and Madasani, 32, as well as 24-year-old Ian Grillot, who had come to the aid of the two men, both originally from Hyderabad.
The three men were transported to a hospital where Kuchibhotla was pronounced dead. It was the first homicide of the year in Olathe, police Sgt. Logan Bonney told India-West. Bonney added that Olathe had just one homicide in all of 2016.
In the wake of the crime, many organizations have condemned the acts of the alleged hate crime.
“We call upon the U.S. Department of Justice and local law enforcement to investigate this murder as what it is, a hate crime,” said Jay Kansara, Hindu American Foundation director of government relations, who added that the foundation’s thoughts and prayers are with Kuchibhotla’s family and friends, as well as with the injured Madasani and Grillot. “Anything less will be an injustice to the victims and their families.”
“We condemn the rising Islamophobia, xenophobia and racism that has been unleashed on our nation during the past year, and in particular the rhetoric and actions of the (President Donald) Trump administration, such as the recent Muslim ban. They set the stage for Srinivas Kuchibhotla to be the Vincent Chin of our current generation,” said Stewart Kwoh, president and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles.
Kwoh worked with Vincent Chin’s mother and local lawyers in Michigan more than 30 years ago to seek justice for Chin’s killing.
"We demand a thorough investigation into the shootings, including the hate crime allegations, and for local, state and national leaders to denounce such hate and violence,” Kwoh added.
Aarti Kohli, executive director of AAAJ-Asian Law Caucus, said, “Indian Americans, particularly Sikhs, have shared the considerable cost of anti-Muslim violence in recent years and our communities live with increasing fear. We ask all Asian Americans to rise up and demand a change in rhetoric and policy from our leaders."
South Asian Americans Leading Together executive director Suman Raghunathan said, "This incident is the latest in a rising tide of hate violence against South Asian, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Middle Eastern and Arab communities, electrified by the president's anti-immigrant policies. When our 'so-called' leaders attempt to govern from an angle of xenophobia, these sentiments embolden deadly violence against our communities."
The South Asian Bar Association of North America added its condemnation of the crime, saying, "Reports and witnesses indicate that the motivation for these crimes was rooted in anti-Muslim hate, xenophobia and racism. While details continue to emerge, if true, we expect the governmental authorities to prosecute this act for what it is – a hate crime."
Added SABA president Vichal Kumar, "In response to the increasing vitriol towards our communities, our government must be our first line of defense. Governments must protect the rights of minorities an ensure the safety of all of its citizens."
Despite the strong sentiment regarding Kuchibhotla’s death, investigators are not jumping to the conclusion that the incident was a hate crime.
“We don't want to speculate,” Bonney told India-West. “We want to separate fact from the fiction and have a thorough in-depth investigation.”
The police sergeant said that officers, along with FBI agents, are “digging and interviewing witnesses and continuing to try and put all the pieces together.”
And though it’s “pretty rare” for such a violent crime to happen in Olathe, Bonney did not want to immediately label it as a hate crime.
“It’s still early on,” he told India-West. “There’s a lot of report writing to get done (before making any determination).”
Following the shooting Purinton fled the scene and was arrested some 80 miles away at an Applebee’s in Clinton, Missouri, in the early hours of Feb. 23, according to a Kansas City Star report.
According to the report citing witnesses at Austin’s Bar and Grill in Olathe, Purinton had been drinking hard, and continually exclaimed racial slurs.
At the Applebee’s in Missouri, Purinton allegedly told a bartender he had killed two men whom he referred to as “Middle Eastern,” it added.
The alleged shooter was in court Feb. 23 and waived extradition so he could be taken back to Kansas.
Purinton was booked into jail in Kansas Feb. 24 on first-degree murder charges and is being held on $2 million bond, according to the Johnson County District Attorney’s office. He is in the custody of the Johnson County sheriff’s office and is scheduled to appear in court Feb. 27, it added.
Kuchibhotla was an aviation engineer at Olathe-based technology company Garmin. Originally from Hyderabad, he graduated from Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University with a bachelor of technology degree in electrical and electronics engineering in 2005. He later earned his master’s degree in the same field from the University of Texas El Paso.
Following his graduation, Kuchibhotla worked as a teaching assistant and research assistant at UTEP, then as a software engineer and senior systems engineer at Rockwell Collins prior to joining Garmin in January 2014, according to his LinkedIn profile.
A GoFundMe page to help Kuchibhotla’s family was set up shortly after the incident. As of 12:45 p.m. Feb. 24, it had raised $404,949 from 11,190 people with a goal of reaching $150,000.
Madasani, a co-worker of Kuchibhotla’s at Garmin, was wounded in the shooting. He was still hospitalized at the time of press.
Madasani graduated from Vasavi College of Engineering in India before moving to the U.S. to attend the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Like Kuchibhotla, Madasani worked for several years at Rockwell Collins before joining Garmin in July 2014.
A friend of both Kuchibhotla and Madasani told the New York Daily News that the two victims, both Hindus from Hyderabad, were good friends.
Garmin spokeswoman Carly Hysell said in a statement that the company is not publicly identifying the employees, but that the second worker is no longer in critical condition.
“We’re saddened that two Garmin associates were involved in (the Feb. 22) incident, and we express our condolences to the family and friends of our co-workers involved,” she said.
Though not officially deemed a hate crime, people are speaking out about Purinton's alleged crime. The comments throughout social media have reached hundreds, with the overlying sentiment of disgust and heartbreak.
On Kuchibhotla's fundraiser page, a Charlotte Afonso wrote, "Makes me sad and worried about this wonderful country that we call home now. When the mere color of our skin is a cause for violence...it's shameful. I don't know Srini or Alok or Ian, but I am saddened by how this shameful act of a racist moron has affected the lives of so many."
One Twitter user said of the shooting, "Ignorance kills innovation (literally)."
Another comment on Facebook by Astrid Sicola regarding the shooting said, "The world is becoming more and more ugly. I don't understand how unreal this is, so much hate so much misunderstanding. How can a person kill someone because of the color of their skin, religious beliefs, or whatever. I am so saddened by this news. Terrible."
A recent SAALT report documented more than 200 incidents of hate violence and xenophobic rhetoric against the South Asian communities during the 2016 elections, with 95 percent of incidents motivated by anti-Muslim sentiment.
"President (Donald Trump) has yet to comment or offer his condolences to the victims' families after this latest tragedy, consistent with his pattern of curious silence in the wake of hate violence incidents against many communities including Muslim, Arab, South Asian and Jewish Americans," SAALT said.
Trump had not commented on the crime at time of press.