Indian students at the University of Missouri-Kansas City on Monday struggled to cope with the loss of their friend Sharath Koppu, who was shot in the back while fleeing a would-be robber at a Kansas City restaurant Friday night.
"He was brilliant," said Madhukar Vuradi, one of Koppu's roommates. "He was jovial, a great guy. Not a best friend but my best brother and I am missing him very much."
Vuradi and about 50 other students gathered at Flarsheim Hall on the UMKC campus where many of them had spent a lot of time in classes with 25-year-old Koppu, a software engineer, who came to Kansas City six months ago from his home in southern India to earn his master's in computing and engineering at UMKC.
He was shot about 7 p.m. Friday at J's Fish and Chicken Market, 412 Prospect Ave., where he had been helping a family friend, when a man came in demanding money and pulled out a gun. Witnesses said that when Koppu ran from the robber toward the back door of the restaurant the man shot him in the back.
Koppu was not an employee at the restaurant; he was helping out that evening and did not know how to work the cash register.
Koppu had just finished his first semester in the master's program at UMKC and was working on his summer semester, friends said. His dream, friends said, was to move to California some day and land a job with a major software company.
"I guess that dream will never come," said Raghu Chowdavara, Koppu's cousin who flew to Kansas City on Saturday from Boston where he is a student. Chowdavara learned when he arrived that his cousin had died at the hospital.
The two grew up together in India and spent summers and holidays visiting one another as boys, Chowdavara said.
"You wanted to be friends with someone like Sharath because he was so kind and very dedicated."
Chowdavara said his cousin earned his undergraduate degree in computing and engineering in India and then worked for an Indian software company for four years. He spent two years researching universities in the United States before he chose to come to UMKC.
Koppu's roommate fought back tears as he talked about his friend. He said Indian students at UMKC were very close on the campus because as international students they felt most comfortable being around others from their home nation. All the students in the computing and engineering school knew Koppu, said Vuradi, also an engineering student.
"Everyone here would say we should all be more like Sharath."
Vuradi said Koppu was the student everyone would turn to when they needed help with their studies.
"Sharath would help someone with a project as if the project was his own," Vuradi said. "He would not sleep to get it done, that's the kind of guy he was. He's favorite thing was studying, always studying."
Vauradi said Koppu had recently began learning to drive a car. "He really wanted to drive," Vuradi said, shaking his head. "I was very fortunate to have a best brother like him. I don't know what I will do now. I don't know how ... We were very close."
Monday's closed gathering on campus was called by Kevin Truman, UMKC Dean of the School of Computing and Engineering, who talked with students about safety on campus and in the surrounding Kansas City community. Students were also given a chance to talk about their friend, and how they were coping. Truman declined to be interviewed by The Star.
But the university in a statement released Saturday afternoon said UMKC had reached out to Koppu's family in India, and that counseling services are available to the university community.
"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.
Vauradi and other students said that in light of the shooting death of their friend they are being more cautious about where they go and making sure they are never alone.
"We are happy being in Kansas City," Vauradi said. "But we are being more careful these days after this thing has happened. That feeling will be there for a long time."
A GoFundMe account established on Saturday to pay for Koppu's body to be returned to India raised more than $50,800 over the weekend. Koppu's body was on its way back to his hometown in Warangal, India, Monday afternoon.
Police on Monday said there were no new developments in the investigation of the shooting and they continue to seek the public's help in locating the gunman. Anyone with information should call the Tips Hotline at 816-474-TIPS (8477).