The Federal Bureau of Investigation is probing whether the shooting of two Indian men at a bar in Kansas could be a hate crime, amid reports that the gunman harassed the victims before opening fire on Wednesday night.
Adam W Purinton was charged with murder for allegedly shooting Srinivas Kuchibhotla, 32, and his friend Alok Madasani, 32, at the Austins Bar & Grill in Olathe, Kansas. Kuchibhotla died in the hospital from his injuries, and Madasani has been released from the hospital.
At least one witness told the Kansas City Star that the gunman yelled “go back to your country” before opening fire.
In India, citizens raised concerns about the safety of foreigners in the US. It also raised questions about the White House’s rhetoric around immigration, which has promoted Donald Trump’s “America First” position on allowing people into the country.
White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, said the death in Kansas was tragic but that it would be absurd to link the action to Trump’s rhetoric, according to Reuters. He also said it was too early to determine the motive.
But for Kuchibhotla’s wife, Sunayana Dumala, the incident raised questions about whether immigrants are valued in the US. Dumala said at a press conference on Friday that she wanted an answer to just one question: “Do we belong here?”
Dumala said she wondered before if her family should stay in the country because of its high rates of gun violence but her husband told her “good things happen in America”.
More than $413,000 has been raised on the crowdfunding website GoFundMe to help Sunayana pay for funeral expenses and other costs.
Any action on charging the incident as a hate crime would have to come from the federal government because Kansas does not have a hate crime statute, said Johnson County district attorney Stephen M Howe .
Purinton was charged with first-degree murder and two counts of attempted first-degree murder on Thursday. He is set to appear in court on Monday. Authorities declined to provide additional details about the incident.
Johnson County court records show Purinton had faced a drunken-driving charge in 1999, which was dismissed, and received a speeding ticket in 2008.
Purinton’s next-door neighbor, Beverly Morris, told the Kansas City Star he was “usually pretty inebriated”, while other neighbors remembered a reclusive, sometimes emotional man who would occasionally help neighbours with gardening tasks.
He worked with the Federal Aviation Administration until 2000, according to an agency spokesperson.
Police apprehended Purinton at an Applebee’s about 80 miles away in Clinton, Missouri, after being tipped off by a bartender at the restaurant, who said Purinton told them he had been involved in the shooting.
Another man, 24-year-old Ian Grillot, was wounded in the hand and chest after trying to stop the shooter, he said.
“I got behind him and he turned around and fired a round at me,” he said, in a video from his hospital bed.
“I was just doing what anyone should have done for another human being. It’s not about where he’s from, we’re all humans.”
The other two victims both worked at the aviation division of the tech company, Garmin.
Garmin said it was “devastated by the senseless tragedy that took the life of one of our associates and friends” and injured another. “Srinivas was a valued member of our engineering team and will be greatly missed,” the company said in a statement.
Another former employer, Rockwell Collins, an avionics and information technology systems company, spoke highly of the deceased engineer.
“I couldn’t say anything slightly bad about Srinivas,” his former manager at the firm, Rod Larson, told the Kansas City Star . “He was well-liked by anybody. He was excellent in all categories. He was a low-maintenance employee and did whatever was asked of him”.
The shooting has sparked widespread concern among Indian parents who have children living in the US. One parent, Sreemala, from Kuchibhotla’s home state of Telangana, told NewsMinute: “My daughter is working in the US. I have made it mandatory for her to call me twice a day after the recent incidents happening in US.
“Last week, she forgot to call me at night and her phone was unreachable. I cannot explain my situation in words. I couldn’t sleep the whole night. After Trump, it has become worse. Earlier, there used to be frequent robbery on the streets, but now they are shooting our children. How we are supposed to stay calm?”
In India, newspapers and television reports covered the Kansas shooting extensively, with editorials raising concerns about the safety of Indians in the US, and headlines labelling Grillot a hero.
The US embassy in Delhi also condemned the shooting. “The United States is a nation of immigrants and welcomes people from across the world to visit, work, study and live,” the US chargé d’affaires, MaryKay Carlson, said in a statement.
“US authorities will investigate thoroughly and prosecute the case, though we recognise that justice is small consolation to families in grief.”