Houston/Washington: An Indian engineer was killed and two others were injured after an American man yelling "get out of my country" opened fire on them in a crowded bar in Kansas City in an apparent hate crime incident.
Srinivas Kuchibhotla (32), who was working at GPS-maker Garmin headquarters in Olathe, was killed while another Indian man and his colleague Alok Madasani was critically injured after a 51-year-old Navy veteran started shooting hurling racial slurs following an altercation on Wednesday night.
A third person, an American man identified as Ian Grillot who tried to intervene also received injuries in the firing in Austins Bar and Grill in Olathe.
The shooter, Adam Purinton, reportedly got into an argument with the victims in the terms of racism, and shouted "get out of my country", "terrorist" before shooting them.
The shooter reportedly provoked them into argument asking their presence and work in his country, and how they are better than him.
According to police, Purinton left the bar after the argument and then returned with a gun and shot the three men while patrons were watching the University of Kansas-TCU basketball game on television in the bar.
The shooter was arrested on Thursday morning, five hours after the incident and charged with murder and attempted murder. Authorities 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.
"It was a tragic and senseless act of violence," Olathe Police Chief Steven Menke told reporters. In New Delhi, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj expressed shock over the incident and said two Indian Embassy officials 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.
External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Vikas Swarup said Kuchibhotla and Madasani hailed from Hyderabad and Warangal, and were working at Garmin in Olathe (Kansas).
"The Indian Embassy officials will meet the injured and facilitate in bringing the mortal remains of the deceased and will be in touch with local police officials to ascertain more details of the incident and monitor follow up action. They will also meet the community members in Kansas," Swarup said.
According to Garmin, 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.
The FBI has joined local police authorities in the investigation. "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.
The shooter, a navy veteran with inactive pilot license and air traffic controller certificate, told a bartender in Clinton, Missouri, where he was hiding after the shooting that he killed two Middle Eastern persons, local media reported.
He has been charged with premeditated first-degree murder and his bond has been set at USD 2 million. According to Kansas City Star, the shooter worked as an air traffic controller in Olathe. He also worked at the Federal Aviation Administration, but left FAA in 2000.
Friends of Kuchibhotla have set up a GoFundMe page to help raise funds for sending his remains to India.
"Srini was the kindest person you would meet, full of love, care and compassion for everyone. He never uttered a word of hatred, a simple gossip, or a careless comment. He was brilliant, well mannered and simply an outstanding human being," the fund raising page said.
"His wife Sunayana and his family are now faced with incredible grief and a multitude of expenses," it said.
The shooting incident comes at a time when hate crimes and acts of bigotry have risen notably during the recent months in America. It has sent shocked waves among Indian-American and the Indian community across the United States.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of 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.
A report in The Kansas City Star said 24-year-old Grillot hid behind a table when Purinton opened fire. He counted the gunshots and when he thought the gunman was out of bullets, he jumped up to stop him but Purinton still had one round left, and he used it to shoot Grillot.
The bullet went through the 24-year-old Olathe man's 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 that he learned Madasani's wife is five months pregnant and that he considers the engineer his new best friend. The sports bar where the shooting took place has been closed with a sign on the door that said it would remain closed indefinitely.