Before Srinivas Kuchibhotla’s death in a possible hate crime, his family warned him about the dangers of remaining in the United States.
His wife was unsure whether they should stay, even as they planned to start a family in Kansas. “I told him many times we should think about going back [to India],” Sunayana Dumala said at a news conference Friday.
And yet, Dumala said, Kuchibhotla was not fearful. He refused to abandon “the country he loved.”
“He always assured me good things will happen to good people,” she said, speaking briefly and between deep breaths, two days after his death.
Police say Adam W. Purinton, 51, opened fire Wednesday night on Kuchibhotla and another Indian man drinking with him at Austins Bar and Grill in Olathe, a Kansas City, Kan., suburb — killing Kuchibhotla, wounding his friend and a third patron who tried to help.
Witnesses reported that Purinton shouted racial slurs and told the two men “Get out of my country.” He was arrested at a bar in Missouri, where the bartender told police Purinton claimed to have killed two Middle Eastern men, according to the Kansas City Star. The FBI is investigating whether to add hate-crime charges to his counts of murder and attempted murder.
“I was told that guy very proudly went to another bar and said he shot two Muslim guys,” Dumala said.
Although she spoke with some difficulty, she made clear to reporters that Purinton didn’t know the first thing about her husband.
Kuchibhotla came to the United States more than a decade ago from Hyderabad, India, to become an American engineer.
The Kansas City Star reported that Kuchibhotla encouraged a brother to immigrate, too. He met Dumala while studying for his master’s degree in Texas.
They married after a six-year courtship, the Star reported — “what in India is known as a love marriage” — and posed for wedding photos in traditional Indian dress.
Then they did things couples do in the United States, like go on a four-state, 1,500-mile road trip to Dallas to celebrate New Year’s, as Dumala described on Facebook in 2013.
“His passion was aviation,” she said Friday. “He wanted to succeed so much in this industry, and do so much for this country —”
She had to pause.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “He did not deserve a death like this.”
Before the shooting, the couple had planned out long lives in Kansas. They bought a house, and they were trying to have their first child.
This, despite growing concerns about their chosen country.
“We’ve read many times in newspapers of some kind of shooting happening,” she said. “I was always concerned: Are we doing the right thing, staying in the United States of America?”
The father of Kuchibhotla’s friend, co-worker and fellow immigrant Alok Madasani, expressed similar concerns. “The situation seems to be pretty bad after Trump took over as the U.S. president,” he told the Hindustan Times.
“I appeal to all the parents in India not to send their children to the United States in the present circumstances,” he said.
The White House called the link to President Trump’s rhetoric absurd, according to Reuters.
These fears have been amplified by the shooting. “There is a kind of hysteria spreading,” a relative of Kuchibhotla’s in India told reporters after his slaying. Across that country, students much like Kuchibhotla had once been were rethinking plans to study in the United States.
But up to the moment of his death, Dumala said, Kuchibhotla paid no mind to such fears: “He said, ‘No, let’s just wait and see.’ ”
She gave her news conference from a Kansas technology company where her husband and Madasani had worked.
“Does the color of a person state that he’s a Muslim, a Hindu or Christian?” she asked.
Although she said much of her late husband’s talents, passions and what he did in the United States, she did not speak of his religion or ancestry — except to lament that it might matter so much to another person.