Triple Shooting In Olathe Leaves Indian Immigrants Anxious And United
The violence and reported racism of a shooting at an Olathe, Kansas, bar that killed one Indian immigrant and wounded another as well as a good Samaritan has left the Indian community in Johnson County shaken and worried about the direction of the United States. But the incident also has strengthened the community's ties to the area.
Thousands of Indian immigrants live in the Kansas City metro area, many working in information technology or engineering jobs. This type of industry brings money from the rest of the world into the region. Many of these workers have been here a decade or more and feel bound to Johnson County.
In the attack Wednesday night, Adam Purinton is said to have yelled “get out of my country” before he allegedly opened fire in Austins Bar & Grill on two Indian immigrants, killing one and also wounding a man who intervened to stop the attack.
Srinivas Kuchibhotla died in the attack while his friend, Alok Madasani and Ian Grillot, a bystander who came to their aid, both were wounded and sent to the hospital.
A march on Sunday afternoon in memory of Kuchibhotla and in support of the other victims stretched for at least a half mile.
Kalyani Aatipamula, who’s lived 12 years in Overland Park, says she’s never knowingly faced discrimination here.
“No, not really, I don’t know,” Aatipamula says. “I’ve never experienced anything like that. It was just shocking for me because I always thought we were in a safe neighborhood and a community.”
Many local Indian immigrants are fiercely devoted to Johnson County and to America, so the shooter's reported taunt of “go back to your country” was a bit stunning.
"This is our home too. This is our kids' home, they were born here," says Suneethi Kuruppath. "I mean they don’t have anywhere else to go. This is where they were calling home for since they were born. And we are here to heal as a community as well."
Kuruppath works at Garmin Ltd., the Olathe-based navigation device company where Kuchibhotla worked, and Madasani still does. She’s been here 11 years, but worries that the mood of her country is changing.
“Especially after the presidential election, everybody can talk anything, it’s public. The hatred is normalized," Kuruppath says. "If anybody can talk about anything, and if anybody can talk hatred, and spread hatred, and normalize hatred, we are losing our civility."
The political climate has Indian immigrants concerned. Ravi Aysola, who came here more than a decade ago, says he started noticing little slights just last year about using English or Indian food. He says he’s troubled by the idea that last week’s shootings may be a sign of things to come.
“That is what all of us fear,” says Aysola. “We hope that this stops here.”
Some are looking beyond the local community to help stop anti-immigrant violence.
“This must be prosecuted as a hate crime,” says Jay Kansara with the Hindu American Foundation.
Kansara says that Wednesday night’s shooting, preceded as it reportedly was by racist, anti-immigrant taunts, presents an opportunity for the new Trump Administration to turn a corner.
“And I send this message very clearly to Attorney General (Jeff) Sessions, and even President Trump: Please prosecute this as a hate crime, because it serves as a marker of what is not tolerated,” Kansara says.
President Trump has so far been silent on the attack in Olathe, and that’s troubling for some in the Indian community here. But the outpouring of support locally, starting with the unifying words of Ian Grillot, the 24-year-old shot trying to stop the attacker, has been deeply reassuring to people like Prakash Wadhwa, an engineer and filmmaker.
“It’s very heartening that the community has come out like this in support. I mean that’s a big positive," says Wadhwa. "You know that’s what makes people like me call this place home, or we feel home, because the community is giving us that strength.”
The Indian community in Johnson County is feeling the love locally, but many are still uneasy about where the country is heading.
Frank Morris is a national correspondent and senior editor at KCUR 89.3. You can reach him on Twitter @FrankNewsman.