Applause, whistling and cheering echoed through the gymnasium as a lanky young man briskly walked from his front row seat to the lectern at Olathe East High School late Saturday morning.
Once on stage, 24-year-old Ian Grillot turned and smiled to a diverse crowd attending the opening ceremonies of the fourth annual Asian Cultural Festival, an event that highlights clothing, customs and cuisine of more than 20 Asian countries.
U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder handed Grillot a pyramid-shaped trophy inscribed with the words “American Hero.”
“Wow,” said Grillot, a 24-year-old house rehabber who hasn’t returned to work since a bullet sliced through his right hand Feb. 22 and entered his upper chest, where it collapsed a lung and cracked bones, among other things. “Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
Grillot’s life hasn’t been the same since he tried to tackle the gunman who turned Austins Bar and Grill bloody two months ago. The gunman had fatally wounded Srinivas Kuchibhotla and shot Alok Madasani, both 32-year-olds from India, in what the FBI is investigating as a possible hate crime. Grillot ran after the gunman, thinking he had spent his bullets. But one remained.
A few days later, still in a Kansas hospital, Grillot explained that he simply had been trying to do the right thing: keep the shooter from hurting anyone else. “I still don’t view myself as a hero,” he said then.
While watching news coverage of that statement, Carol Wei with the Mid-America Asian Culture Association felt an overwhelming sense of appreciation for Grillot’s actions and attitude.
“When I hear this, I think, ‘Oh, that is a great person,’ ” she said, explaining why the group honored Grillot with its hero award at the festival, which organizers expected would draw 12,000 people this year. “We want to promote (him) in the community, let people know what is the right thing to do, like him.”
Grillot, who flew earlier this year to Houston to receive another award, had not heard of the Asian Culture Festival before Wei’s group invited him. With his parents, two sisters and two nieces watching the ceremonies, he commended the event for its “beautiful showcase of diversity.” Families of the shooting victims appreciate all of the support, he told the crowd.
Before handing Grillot the award, Yoder praised the Olathe North graduate for being one of the “regular folks who see a problem and stand up and do something about it.”
“Feb. 22 this year represented both the worst in our community and the best tin our community,” Yoder said. “The worst was the evil man who perpetrated a hate crime... That man does not reflect us or our values.... What reflects what Kansas City and Kansas stands for is Ian Grillot. He was willing to stand up to the bully, he was willing to stand up to hate, he was willing to put himself in harm’s way for our community members.”
Since the shooting, so many people have wanted to meet or interview Grillot, have him give speeches or present him with awards that he’s felt like throwing his cellphone out his truck window just to find peace.
He still wears a brace on that right hand and forearm. The hand still hurts if he knocks it on something. His chest hurts if he coughs or sneezes real hard.
But his voice nearly is back to normal, after being hoarse from the bullet grazing his vocal cord area. Other internal damage is healing, too.
“I’m vertical. I’m not in a wheelchair. I can fish. I am happy,” he said.
As he cuddled let his 8-month-old niece in a hallway after receiving the award, she buried her head in his shoulder. Grillot’s mother grabbed her cellphone out for more pictures of what already had been a photo-documented day.
Debra and Jim Grillot say they are proud of their second child, a former Boy Scout who served in the U.S. Marines before he started rehabbing homes.
“We tried to teach them (the children) to do the right thing,” Jim Grillot said.
Debra Grillot thinks both their daughters would have done the same as their brother, had they been in Austins on Feb. 22.
More people of different colors and backgrounds need to stand up for each other, Ian Grillot said.
“The hate is silly,” he said. “It doesn’t really get us anywhere except broken hearts and heartache.”