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Kansas man charged with killing Indian engineer in possible hate crime

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A still image taken from a video shows the brother of Srinivas Kuchibhotla, who was shot dead in a possible hate crime in Kansas state of the U.S., talking to the media in Hyderabad, Telangana, India, Feb. 24, 2017. ANI / via Reuters TV 2 / 3
Adam Purinton, 51, of Olathe, Kan., is pictured in this undated handout photo obtained by Reuters Feb. 24, 2017. Clinton Police Department3 / 3

KANSAS CITY/NEW DELHI, India -- A 51-year-old man has been charged with killing an engineer from India and wounding two other men when he opened fire in a Kansas bar in what federal authorities were investigating on Friday, Feb. 24, as a possible bias-motivated crime that shocked the victim's home country.

The shooting on Wednesday night led news bulletins in India and triggered outrage on social media, where people voiced concern that President Donald Trump's "America First" position on immigration and jobs has fueled a climate of intolerance.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer said on Friday that any loss of life was tragic, but that it would be absurd to link the killing to Trump's rhetoric.

Navy veteran Adam Purinton, who is white, was charged on Thursday in Johnson County, Kan., with one count of premeditated first-degree murder and two counts of attempted premeditated first-degree murder, District Attorney Stephen Howe told reporters.

He declined to elaborate on the details of the incident or the motive for the shooting.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation was looking at whether it was a hate crime, the official term for crimes motivated by bias or prejudice. A FBI spokeswoman said agents and police canvassed the area on Thursday and the investigation continued on Friday.

Purinton is accused of killing Srinivas Kuchibhotla, 32, and wounding Alok Madasani, also 32, in Austins Bar and Grill in Olathe, Kan., on Wednesday evening, police said.

At least one bystander told the Kansas City Star the gunman shouted "get out of my country" before shooting the Indian victims.

Purinton is also accused of wounding American Ian Grillot, 24, who was shot as he tried to intervene.

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

The suspect fled on foot and was arrested without incident five hours later at an Applebee's restaurant in Clinton, Mo. He reportedly told an employee there he needed a place to hide because he had killed two Middle Eastern men, the Star reported.

Purinton, a former Federal Aviation Administration employee, was transferred back to Kansas on Friday and was being held at the Johnson County jail with bond set at $2 million, according to jail records.

He is scheduled to appear in court on Monday. It was not immediately known whether he had hired a lawyer.

Police did not say whether Purinton has faced charges in the past. However, he was not generally known to police in Olathe, a city of 134,000 people about 25 miles southwest of Kansas City, Sgt. Logan Bonney said by phone on Friday.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican, condemned the killing. "This sort of senseless violence is never acceptable," he said in a statement.

'Be angry!'

At Kuchibhotla's family home near the Indian tech hub of Hyderabad, relatives 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," the victim's brother, Venu Madhav, told Reuters Television outside their home.

Through a window, relatives could be seen sitting quietly, one woman wiping away tears.

Many Indians initially welcomed Trump's election, seeing his calls to restrict Muslim immigration as support for their Hindu-majority country. The nation 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!" Siddharth, a well-known South Indian actor who uses one name, tweeted to his 2.6 million followers in remarks echoed across social media. "Trump is spreading hate. This is a hate crime! RIP #SrinivasKuchibhotla."

Kavipriya Muthuramalingam, a former colleague of the victim, said his friend was one of the nicest, most gentle people one could meet. "He was non-confrontational, non-controversial, easy-going, always smiling," Muthuramalingam said.