For two friends, Olathe shooting turns American happiness to horror

Srinivas Kuchibhotla was shot and killed in the shooting at Austins Bar & Grill in Olathe.
Srinivas Kuchibhotla was shot and killed in the shooting at Austins Bar & Grill in Olathe.

In a south Olathe subdivision of newer two-story homes, pairs of shoes scattered this week on one front porch symbolized the shattering of Srinivas Kuchibhotla’s American dream.

The shoes belonged to dozens of visitors recognizing the Indian custom of removing footwear when entering homes. The visitors were there to grieve the killing of Kuchibhotla.

A few miles away on an Overland Park cul-de-sac, his friend Alok Madasani came home from a hospital Thursday having survived the shooting at Austins Bar & Grill in Olathe.

The two men, both from India, both 32, were the closest of friends, companions at work and members of the same cricket team, the K.C. Khiladis. Kuchibhotla was the bowler, the pitcher’s position, with a soft-spoken demeanor.

Madasani, joking and more outgoing, was the keeper, like a catcher in baseball. Both, family and friends say, shared similar American aspirations — one dream now over, one forever altered.

“They both bought houses and were settling down,” said Dinesh Kirshnaswamy, the team’s captain and mutual friend of both men. “They were happy living life.”

Yet Kuchibhotla’s wife worried about the way she sensed some people viewed their ethnicity, she said Friday. Both had come here from the same Indian city to attend a U.S. college.

Now, “I have a question in my mind: Do we belong?” the widow, Sunayana Dumala, said at a news conference at Garmin, where her husband and Madasani worked.

Dumala is returning to India for Kuchibhotla’s funeral. She said she wanted to come back to their home in Kansas, fulfilling her husband’s wishes for an American life and “for me being successful in any field I choose.”

But before making that decision, “I need an answer,” she said. “I need an answer from the government. ...What are they going to do to stop this hate crime?”

Authorities on Thursday charged Adam W. Purinton, 51, with first-degree murder in Kuchibhotla’s death. On Wednesday night, Purinton allegedly opened fire on the two friends at Austins, on 151st Street. The suspect is believed to have fled Olathe and stopped at a restaurant in Clinton, Mo., where Purinton reportedly told a bartender that he had just killed two Middle Eastern men.

Another patron of Austins, Ian Grillot, remained hospitalized Friday in fair condition.

Friday morning, Garmin held a private, companywide vigil in honor of Kuchibhotla. And then, in a surprise visit, his pal Madasani walked in on crutches.

Two hundred co-workers greeted Madasani with a standing ovation.

“There wasn’t a dry eye in the place,” said Carly Hysell, company spokeswoman.

A love marriage

Kuchibhotla was the second of three sons born in Hyderabad, India. His father is a retired pharmaceutical employee. In 2005, Kuchibhotla traveled to America to secure his master’s degree in engineering at the University of Texas-El Paso.

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.

Dumala said she and her husband met online when she was thinking of attending UTEP. She instead chose St. Cloud State University in Minnesota, arriving in 2007.

After a six-year courtship, they married. 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 his brother-in-law Venumadhav Gajula in Hyberdad. He 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.”

Soon the couple bought what Dumala called their “dream house” in Olathe. They were planning on having children, she said.

Of the two, she was the more concerned about racial intolerance she sensed in some Americans.

She would ask her reassuring husband: “Are we doing the right thing staying in the United States of America?”

“We’ve read many times in newspapers of some kind of shooting happening,” she said at the news conference at Garmin, where Kuchibhotla worked as an aviation systems engineer. “And we always wondered, how safe?”

But her husband remained positive. Kuchibhotla was just that way.

Dumala credited her husband’s optimism for boosting her confidence in landing a job after four years of not working. In May, she was hired as a data systems developer at Intouch Solutions, an Overland Park pharmaceutical marketing agency.

“He would assure me that only good things happen to good people,” Dumala said. “Always think good.”

Kuchibhotla’s boss at Garmin minced no words. “Genuinely, he was — if not the best — one of the best people I’ve ever met in my life,” said Didier Papadopoulos, vice president of aviation systems engineering.

‘Is this a dangerous place?’

The homes of both Kuchibhotla and Madasani filled up this week with relatives and well-wishers.

Outside the Kuchibhotla house, his uncle, who requested not to be identified by name, looked around the neighborhood of $300,000 homes and asked: “Is this a dangerous place?”

In the Overland Park subdivision where Madasani lives, neighbor Sean Culton said it was hard not to look at the tragedy in larger social, even political terms.

“It’s a sad situation,” he said, “where we have all this racism.”

To Culton, who is 47, it stems back to 2001 and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. But he also thinks that the current political atmosphere, with the election of Donald Trump, has inflamed suspicion and intolerance.

“I think it has been ongoing, but it (the current political climate) has escalated it,” said Culton, who said he is a Republican but not a supporter of Trump.

Madasani has years to which he can look forward: His wife, Reepthi Gangula, is pregnant with the couple’s first child, said Culton, their friend.

But at least for the time being — on a week when those gathering inside Madasani’s home kindly answered the door to a stream of media — the family asked to be left alone.

“He’s recovering right now,” said a relative, wishing not to use his name. “He’s lost his best friend.”

The Star’s Glenn E. Rice and Shashank Bengali of the Los Angeles Times contributed to this story.

Rick Montgomery: 816-234-4410, @rmontgomery_r

Eric Adler: 816-234-4431, @eadler

Pledges of support from Garmin, Olathe

During a Friday news conference at Garmin headquarters, company officials along with Olathe Mayor Michael Copeland pledged their support for Srinivas Kuchibhotla’s family and resolved to emerge from the tragedy as a community further united.

“On Wednesday night, our family and our community was torn apart by a senseless act of hate and violence,” said Cliff Pemble, Garmin president and CEO. “This has been a very difficult time as friends and co-workers of Srinivas Kuchibhotla are grieving and we cannot make sense of the situation.”

Copeland echoed the sentiment by saying the shooting would neither define nor divide Olathe.

“Our amazing diversity is a source our strength and our pride and it always will be,” he said.

Glenn E. Rice,