Kansas shooting shocks an Indian city where 'every other house' has someone in America

The shooting death of an Indian man in a possible hate crime in suburban Kansas City has shocked his family and his hometown of Hyderabad, which sends thousands of students and professionals to the United States every year. 

Srinivas Kuchibhotla, 32, was shot along with an Indian co-worker Wednesday night at a bar in Olathe, Kan., by a man who reportedly said, “Get out of my country,” before opening fire. Kuchibhotla’s friend and a local man were wounded.

Kuchibhotla was remembered Friday as a devoted son who loved life in the United States and took frequent trips with his wife to visit Indian friends living in other cities.

His brother-in-law, Venumadhav Gajula, and others in Hyderabad — a booming tech hub in southern India that has earned the moniker “Cyberabad” — blamed the killing on a growing climate of racial intolerance in the United States, which many said had worsened since President Trump came into office.

They cited Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric, his effort to bar citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States, support within his administration for curtailing a visa program for skilled workers and anecdotal accounts that ethnic minority travelers were being subjected to increased questioning at airports.

Kuchibhotla had moved from Hyderabad a decade ago, one of thousands of educated young Indians who moved — and continue to move — to the U.S. to pursue middle-class dreams. He earned a master’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Texas at El Paso, and for the last several years had worked in aviation systems at Olathe-based Garmin Ltd.

“He had a lot of hopes,” Gajula said. “He’s a role model for our younger generation. He is very talented. It’s a big loss for us.”

The shooting suspect, 51-year-old Navy veteran Adam Purinton, was charged Thursday with premeditated first-degree murder.

Witnesses at the bar on Wednesday night told the Kansas City Star that Purinton was drinking and spouting racial slurs at Kuchibhotla and his friends. At one point, according to the newspaper, Purinton was kicked out of the bar before he entered again and began shooting.

Federal authorities are investigating whether the shooting was a hate crime. Purinton’s bond was set at $2 million.

Gajula said his own son, a college student, had obtained admission at two universities in the United States but the family was considering keeping him in India.

“We are having second thoughts after what has happened, and because of the way things are changing over there after Trump,” said Gajula, 48. “It is very scary and people are panicking. My advice would be to think twice about going to the U.S.”

Those would have been unthinkable words just months ago. With its rapid growth and large population of English-speaking graduates in engineering and other skilled fields, Hyderabad, population 10 million, has zoomed past other Indian cities as a source of students and professionals for U.S. universities and companies.

The U.S. consulate in the city issued the fifth-highest number of student visas of any U.S. mission in the world in 2015. Alok Madasani, Kuchibhotla’s co-worker who was injured in the shooting, hailed from Warangal, 90 miles northeast of Hyderabad.

“Every other house has someone in the U.S.,” said Seema Vindu, acting president of a Hyderabad association for parents of Indians living overseas. It has more than 200 members, the vast majority of whose children are in America, she said.

Sreemala Pakhal, a physician, said her 25-year-old daughter, working as a business analyst in St. Louis, has described increased harassment over the last few months. After one of her friends was questioned at an airport for five hours despite having a valid work visa to be in the United States, Pakhal’s daughter has stopped the sightseeing trips she used to take on weekends.

“She and her friends are getting very scared to move to one place or another,” Pakhal said. “As a parent you feel extremely worried and tense. I’ve visited the U.S. so many times and I never felt like this.”

Pakhal said that her daughter was considering moving back to India, even though that would mean foregoing a chance at a green card, or permanent residency in the United States, where salaries for engineers and business analysts are several times higher than in India.

On Friday, as the news of the killing led Indian newscasts, Pakhal paid a visit to Kuchibhotla’s family and described them as being in shock, his mother crying at the entrance to their house on the outskirts of Hyderabad.

U.S. officials said the body would be brought to Hyderabad within several days. Funeral services were expected to be held next week.

Kuchibhotla was the second of three sons born to his mother and father, a retired pharmaceutical employee. In 2013 he married his wife, who also hails from Hyderabad. They had what in India is known as a love marriage — one not arranged by the couple’s parents — though in this case both families were pleased with the union.

“We were all so happy for them,” said Gajula, who attended their wedding along with more than 1,000 guests, not uncommonly large by Indian standards. “They were so happy with the way their lives were going.”

Kuchibhotla encouraged his younger brother, Sai, to follow him to America, where he works in the Dallas area. On Thursday, Sai traveled to Kansas to help collect his brother’s body.

shashank.bengali@latimes.com

Follow @SBengali on Twitter for more news from South Asia

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UPDATES:

2 p.m.: This article was updated with additional details about the shooting.

This article was originally published at 8:15 a.m.

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