A 25-year-old University of Missouri-Kansas City student from India was fatally shot in the back as he ran from a would-be robber at the restaurant where he worked, a man working at the restaurant said Saturday.
Kansas City police identified the victim as Sharath Koppu. He was shot about 7 p.m. Friday at J's Fish and Chicken Market near 54th and Prospect. Men at a nearby motel said they heard five gunshots from the direction of the restaurant.
Police released a brief video of the suspect inside the restaurant moments before the shooting and asked for the community's assistance in identifying him.
Koppu was a software engineer who came to the United States in January to pursue his master's degree, wrote a cousin who established a GoFundMe account on Saturday in Koppu's name. The account, created to pay for Koppu's body to be returned to India, raised $25,000 in three hours.
"He had the same dreams like everyone else, to make it BIG in the land of opportunity. He had a great sense of humor and always made people laugh and was always eager to lend a helping hand," wrote the cousin, Raghu Chowdavaram, in the description of the GoFundMe account. "Little did anybody know that life is about to take a big unfortunate turn on a fateful day of July 6th 2018."
On Saturday afternoon, the restaurant remained closed during normal business hours, with corrugated metal concealing its windows. A sticker on the front door announced surveillance cameras are in place, presumably as a means to deter crime.
The worker at the restaurant didn't wish to be named, but he described to The Star what he saw on extended surveillance footage that has not been made public.
The suspect, wearing a brown shirt with white stripes, demanded money and pulled out a gun.
"He's scared he's going to die," the man said of Koppu.
As people ducked or ran for cover around him, Koppu bolted directly away from the suspect, toward the back of the store.
"(Koppu) ran, so he shot him" in the back, the man said, shaking his head. He said Koppu didn't know how to work the register.
Koppu died shortly after being taken to a hospital.
Capt. Lionel Colón, a spokesman with Kansas City police, said he has only seen the video released by police and thus couldn't confirm the man's account of the incident.
The worker said Koppu was related to the owner of J's Fish and Chicken, which has three locations in Kansas City.
Three or four customers were in the store at the time of the attempted robbery, the man said, as well as several employees behind the counter.
Another worker at the restaurant Saturday, tears streaming down her face, screamed at the unfairness of Koppu's early death, how he didn't have a chance to say goodbye to his parents.
UMKC has reached out to Koppu's family in India, and counseling services are available to the university community, according to a statement released Saturday afternoon.
"We offer our sincere sympathies to Sharath’s family and friends in the wake of this senseless tragedy," the statement said.
UMKC Chancellor C. Mauli Agrawal offered his own condolences in a tweet Saturday evening.
"Sharath and I share an Indian heritage, but all of us at UMKC share in the grief such tragedies bring," Agrawal wrote.
The Consulate General of India, which has offices in Chicago, tweeted Saturday that officers are en route to Kansas City and are communicating with Koppu's family.
"Sharath will be missed not only by his family, but by everyone whose life he touched," wrote Chowdavaram.
Anyone with information about the identity of the suspect is urged to call the TIPS Hotline at 816-474-8477 or through the app at www.kccrimestoppers.com.