Kansas man charged in shooting of two Indians in possible hate crime

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MILWAUKEE/NEW DELHI, Feb 24 (Reuters) - A Kansas man was charged on Thursday with shooting to death an Indian man and wounding a second Indian man and an American in a bar, and federal authorities are investigating the incident as a possible hate crime.

The killing led news bulletins in India and drew strong reactions on social media, where people voiced concern that U.S. President Donald Trump's "America First" position on immigration and jobs has fueled a climate of intolerance.

Adam Purinton, 51, was charged in Johnson County, Kansas, with one count of premeditated first degree murder and two counts of attempted premeditated first degree murder, Johnson County District Attorney Stephen Howe told a news conference.

Purinton is accused of shooting and killing Srinivas Kuchibhotla, 32, and wounding Alok Madasani, also 32, in the Austins Bar and Grill in Olathe, Kansas, on Wednesday evening, according to a statement from the Olathe Police Department.

At least one bystander told the Kansas City Star the man shouted "get out of my country" before shooting the Indian men. He is also accused of wounding American Ian Grillot, 24, who was shot when he tried to intervene.

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"People call me a hero ... I was just doing what anyone should have done for any other human being," Grillot said in a video interview released by the hospital where he was undergoing treatment for gunshot wounds to the hand and chest.

At Kuchibhotla's family home near Hyderabad, a tech hub where U.S. companies Microsoft, Google and Facebook have operations, family members backed government calls to ensure the safety of Indians living in the United States.

"The government should voice out this strongly because our brothers, sisters and our relatives are there," his brother Venu Madhav told Reuters Television.

District attorney Howe would not elaborate on the details of the incident or the motive for the shooting.

"We want to be able to be sure about our facts versus speculation. So we are not prepared at this point to talk about the particular facts of the case because this is still very fresh," Howe said.

Trump's election was welcomed at first by many in India who interpreted his calls to restrict immigration by Muslims as signaling support towards Hindu-majority India, which has been at odds for decades with Pakistan, its mainly Muslim neighbor.

But the Trump administration may also have skilled Indian workers like Kuchibhotla in mind as it considers curbing the H-1B visa program, worrying both India's $150 billion IT services industry and Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government.

"Don't be shocked! Be angry! Trump is spreading hate. This is a hate crime! RIP #SrinivasKuchibhotla," Siddharth, a well-known South Indian actor who uses one name, tweeted to his 2.6 million followers in remarks echoed across social media.

"INCREDIBLE SHOCK"

Kavipriya Muthuramalingam, a friend and former colleague of the shooting victim, has raised more than $250,000 via a crowd-funding website to help his family with funeral and other expenses.

"This came as an incredible shock - as he is one of the most gentle, nicest human beings you would meet," Muthuramalingam said. "He was non-confrontational, non-controversial, easy-going, always smiling."

Kuchibhotla's Facebook page, where he called himself "Srinu," said he joined U.S. technology company Garmin in 2014 from Rockwell Collins.

He took a master's in electronics from the University of Texas in El Paso from 2005-07, according to LinkedIn. He was married but had no children.

India's Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj, who has made a priority of supporting India's diaspora in times of trouble, tweeted that she was "shocked" at the shooting and expressed her condolences to the bereaved family.

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Two officials from the Indian consulate in Houston were going to Kansas to meet the injured men and police to "ascertain more details of the incident and monitor follow up action," Indian Ministry of External Affairs spokesman Vikas Swarup said in a statement.

The U.S. embassy in New Delhi condemned the shooting.

"The United States is a nation of immigrants and welcomes people from across the world to visit, work, study, and live," Chargé d'Affaires MaryKay Carlson said in a statement.

"U.S. authorities will investigate thoroughly and prosecute the case, though we recognize that justice is small consolation to families in grief."

The FBI was investigating whether the incident was a hate crime.

"We are looking at whether the crime was committed via bias motivation. We are really at the preliminary stage at looking at every aspect," said Eric Jackson, special agent in charge of the FBI's Kansas City Field Office, during the news conference.

The U.S. attorney office in Kansas and the U.S. Department of Justice will also evaluate the case as more evidence is gathered, Tom Beall, acting U.S. attorney for the District of Kansas said, according to the Kansas City Star.

The suspect fled from the bar on foot and was apprehended five hours later at an Applebee's in Clinton, Missouri, where he reportedly told an employee that he needed a place to hide out because he had killed two Middle Eastern men, the Star reported.

Purinton, who was not armed, was arrested without incident, the newspaper reported. The Navy veteran was being held on a $2 million bond in the Henry County Jail, where he waived his right to fight extradition to Johnson County. (Reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee and Aditya Kalra in New Delhi; Editing by Douglas Busvine, Robert Birsel, Larry King)

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