Fatal shooting of UMKC student from India tells the world KC is dangerous

Sharath Koppu, a 25-year-old University of Missouri-Kansas City student from India, was fatally shot inside J’s Fish and Chicken Market Friday.
Sharath Koppu, a 25-year-old University of Missouri-Kansas City student from India, was fatally shot inside J’s Fish and Chicken Market Friday. Kansas City Police Department

The killing of Sharath Koppu is a gunshot reverberating around the world.

News that the University of Missouri-Kansas City student was gunned down in an apparent robbery attempt Friday quickly spread to his native India.

Before the weekend was over, The Times of India posted an article with this headline: “Hyderabad techie shot in Kansas restaurant, dies.”

The story’s second paragraph noted the February 2017 hate crime that took the life of Srinivas Kuchibhotla, who was killed when a man shouted slurs about foreigners and began shooting at Austins Bar & Grill in Olathe. Kuchibhotla, a Garmin engineer, was also from India.

The article went on to point out that Koppu’s death Friday was about “41km away” from where Kuchibhotla had died, stamping our region as violent.

There’s no doubt that the gun violence in the U.S. resonates globally. And when it happens here, as it does far too often in Kansas City, the rest of the world takes note.

The usual geographical confusion — Kansas City quickly became Kansas in The Times of India story — is beside the point.

Koppu was shot in the back as he fled from a suspected robber at J’s Fish and Chicken Market near 54th Street and Prospect Avenue. That a foreign college student could die while doing something as innocuous as working in a restaurant merely underscores for many that life in the U.S. is dangerous.

Kuchibhotla’s murder sparked similar questions and misgivings.

Now, the family and friends of the 24-year-old Koppu are suffering a horrific loss after a senseless killing.

Sharath Koppu, a UMKC graduate student from India, was shot in the back fleeing a restaurant robbery Friday. Koppu’s cousin and his roommate describe what he meant to those who knew him.

There should be no doubt, though, that Koppu’s death also has far-reaching implications, tainting global perspectives about Kansas City. And those perceptions could quickly translate into economic losses as area employers and universities work to recruit talented foreign workers and students to strengthen our economy.

We are enriched in countless ways by new immigrants, including their entrepreneurial talent, which the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation recently highlighted as it criticized changes in visa rules. The result is fewer start-ups by foreign entrepreneurs.

And several local colleges and universities are seeing declines in foreign student enrollment, which translate to a loss of more than just tuition dollars.

Foreign students planning to study in the U.S. are often asked about safety by wary parents and friends. Incidents such as Koppu’s death add to their hesitation, especially when combined with the policies of the Trump administration, which too often delivers the message that foreigners are not welcome.

What is less likely to make headlines overseas is the Midwestern generosity that enveloped Kuchibhotla’s widow who plaintively asked, “Do we belong?” after her husband’s murder.

Good people here mobilized and provided support to her, just as they will do for Koppu’s family and friends now.

But the damage is done. A young man is gone, and his death is a loss for Kansas City in ways that we are only beginning to feel.