This post was updated on 2/24/2017.
In Olathe, Kansas, one man is dead and two more are critically injured after a man fired multiple bullets into a crowded sports bar. Initial reports from a Kansas City Star reporter who tweeted from the scene initially described two of the shooting victims as “Middle Eastern or Indian” and that the shooter may have uttered racial slurs before opening fire.
Details later released by law enforcement officials confirmed that two of the three shooting victims were of Indian descent, including 32-year-old Srinivas Kuchibhotla who died of his injuries late Wednesday night.
Austins’ Bar & Grill was reportedly packed with fans on Wednesday night who were watching a college basketball game involving the University of Kansas when the suspect — initially described by police as a white male in his 50’s — allegedly began yelling racial slurs at Kuchibhotla and his friend and co-worker 31-year-old Alok Madasani, who were regulars at Austin’s and who were seated on the patio Wednesday night enjoying some beers. The suspect was eventually confronted by a bar regular (later identified by local news as Ian Grillot) and may have been ejected from the bar. He returned and, according to eyewitnesses, yelled “get out of my country” before firing into the crowd and injuring Grillot, Kuchibhotla, and Madasani. All three were taken to area hospitals where Kuchibhotla succumbed to his injuries late Wednesday night.
The suspected shooter — now identified as 51-year-old Adam W. Purington — then fled the scene, leading police on a manhunt that lasted throughout most of Wednesday evening. The suspected shooter was eventually taken into custody without incident earlier Thursday morning in Clinton, Missouri after stopping at an Applebee’s to continue drinking, where he told the bartender that he had “killed two Middle Eastern men” prompting a 911 call. Clinton, Missouri is about a 90 minute drive from Olathe, Kansas.
Although law enforcement officials did not release the names of the shooting victims until a press conference Thursday afternoon, the two other victims shot Wednesday night were first identified as employees of Garmin’s Aviation Systems Engineering team in a company-wide email.
According to his LinkedIn, Kuchibhotla graduated from Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University — one of India’s leading engineering-focused universities, located in Hyderabad — before pursuing a Master’s Degree at the University of Texas in El Paso in Electrical Engineering. He had been an employee at Garmin for nearly four years, and before that had worked as an engineer for Rockwell Collins.
Madasani also received his bachelor’s degree in Hyderabad, India at Vasavi College of Engineering before pursuing a Master’s degree in Electrical Engineering at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Like Kuchibhotla, Madasani worked as an engineer at Rockwell Collins before joining the Aviations program at Garmin just under three years ago.
After being taken into custody, Purington was interviewed by police and charged with one count of premeditated first-degree murder, as well as two counts of attempted premeditated first-degree murder. Although he has not currently been charged with a hate crime, federal officials are reportedly investigating into the possibility of adding federal hate crime charges against Purington.
It seems fairly clear to me that this is an example of anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim hate manifesting in criminal violence. Indeed, 47% of the hate crimes tracked by the FBI are race-related, and the distribution of anti-Muslim violence — already alarmingly high after 9/11 — has continued to rise dramatically in the last few years in parallel with widespread Islamophobic rhetoric from the political Right. The Southern Poverty Law Center has further issued a report revealing that the number of anti-Muslim hate groups in America doubled in 2016. South Asian Americans, who include people of all faith, are often mistaken to be Muslim and are targeted alongside Muslims in anti-Muslim crimes. Indeed, Sikh American Balbir Singh Sodhi was the first person to lose his life in an anti-Muslim hate crime after 9/11.
We can no longer continue to kid ourselves: nativism, xenophobia, and Islamophobia are dangerous, and leads to bloodshed against innocent folks, including many within the Asian American community. It’s time to stop this kind of hate.
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