The shooting at a bar in a suburb of Kansas City of two Indian immigrants, one of whom died, is likely to become the first test of the Trump administration’s view of what role the federal government should play in crimes against ethnic and racial minorities.
Police accounts of the shootings in the city of Olathe, Kansas, say the suspect singled out two engineers in comments before he fired at the men he reportedly thought were Middle Eastern, yelling “get out of my country.” A third victim was seriously injured when he sought to intervene.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer called the shooting tragic, but stopped short of entertaining notions that it was a hate crime, saying it was too early for the administration to attach such motivations so early in the investigation.
“To right now intimate what the motives are, it’s too early to jump to a conclusion,” Spicer said. “We’ve seen that too often in the past in Florida and other places where people jump to a conclusion.”
Adam W. Purinton, 51, has been charged with premeditated first-degree murder after allegedly shooting Srinivas Kuchibhotla, 32; Alok Madasani, 32, and Ian Grillot, 24, at an Olathe, Kansas bar. Kuchibhotla died later that night. Madasani was released Thursday from the hospital where Grillot remains recovering.
Purinton fled the scene and reportedly sought help finding a hiding place after, he told a bartender, that he had killed two Middle Eastern men.
Kansas doesn’t have any hate crime statutes so the FBI was called in to investigate possible civil rights violations.
The shooting set off a wave of fear throughout the local Indian community and even got the attention of India’s government, which has promised to keep tabs on the investigation’s progress.
Kansas lawmakers immediately condemned what they saw as an act of prejudice and “cowardly” xenophobia.
“I am very disturbed by last night’s shooting in Olathe,” said U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan. “I strongly condemn violence of any kind, especially if it is motivated by prejudice and xenophobia.”
Rep. Kevin Yoder, a Republican who represents Olathe, called the attack “a senseless tragedy,” praised the “vibrant Indian-American community” and said diverse political and religions views are what make Kansas great.
“Ian’s act of bravery, not this cowardly xenophobic act, is the true representation of who Kansans are and what we believe,” said Rep. Lynn Jenkins, another Kansas Republican.
President Donald Trump has yet to address the shooting, but Spicer urged caution about attaching any labels prematurely. He cited President Barack Obama response to the June 12, 2016, Orlando shooting as an example.
Obama called the attack by Omar Matteen that killed 49 people at a popular gay nightclub a hate crime. He also called a terrorist attack.
“Today, as Americans, we grieve the brutal murder – a horrific massacre – of dozens of innocent people,” Obama said following the shooting. “This was an act of terror and an act of hate.”
But opponents – especially then-candidate Donald Trump – criticized Obama for not being blunt enough against “radical Islamic terrorism.” He used the case as an example of how “political correctness” and soft immigration laws allowed such an attack to happen.
“Truly, our president doesn’t know what he’s doing. He’s failed us, and he’s failed us badly,” Trump said during a June 13 speech at Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire. “And under his leadership, this situation will not get any better, it will only get worse.
Eric Jackson, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Kansas City office, said it was too early in the investigation to determine if the crime could be classified as a hate crime.
“We’re less than 24 hours in,” Howe said. “We want to be sure of the facts versus speculation.”
Spicer said it’d be a mistake to start assigning motivation without more information.
“Let’s let law enforcement do its job before we start jumping to conclusions.”
Lindsay Wise and Tony Rizzou in Kansas City contributed to this report.