KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Friends and UMKC's School of Computing and Engineering faculty describe Sharath Koppu as a brilliant and an exceptional student.
The community is reeling over Koppu's death, which came as a shock to those who have sat next to him in class since last year.
Koppu was working at J's Fish and Chicken Market Friday evening when a man, seen in the store's surveillance, came inside with a gun. Police say the suspect tried to rob the business and shot Koppu dead.
Police are looking for the suspect.
Koppu was working toward his Master's degree in computer science. He had big dreams of moving to California or New York to be a software engineer, his best friend and roommate Madhukar Vuradi said.
On Monday, UMKC's School of Computing and Engineering provided Koppu's friends and classmates with resources to help them deal with grief.
"It's not like best friend, he's like my best brother. He's senior to me, he used to give lots of motivation, lots of help," Vuradi said. "I miss him very badly."
Koppu came to UMKC from India just last January.
He quickly made friends, many from the Indian Student Association on campus, and enjoyed going to eat, playing jokes, and studying most of all. He was a role model, said Vuradi.
Dr. Kevin Truman, dean of the School of Computing and Engineering, said Koppu was integrating well and was one of the school's top students.
"This is tragic. They're one of our family. That makes it very difficult for all of us. For many of us as faculty and staff, we have kids that age and we would be devastated if that happened to one of our own," Truman said.
The School of Computing and Engineering has around 300 Indian international students at any given time, Truman said. It's important for Indian students to find family away from home.
"I'm very fortunate that I got a good brother who looks after me, who used to teach everything like education. He has helped me a lot," Vuradi said.
UMKC partners met Koppu at an interest event last year in Hyderabad, India. Koppu had graduated from the Vasavi College of Engineering.
"We bring these students here, they come on their own, to see a better life. So it's very tragic to see something end well before its time," Truman said.
The incident doesn't appear to be a hate crime or targeted an international student specifically, says Truman, but it still has major implications in the way the school will reach out to the international community.
"It's tragic and tragically disappointing in so many ways. From the standpoint of how we behave in the U.S. at times, but also the fact that it's going international, that this is going to be a message sent to another part of the world," Truman said.
Vuradi said he and his classmates are being more careful and cautious when they leave the house or walk to the library to study. He says he was happy to see police out and patrolling after the incident.
Truman says it will be crucial to reach out to prospective students from other countries and show them Kansas City is still a safe place to learn.
"Many still think a U.S. education is the golden seal, I'll say, of education and opportunity. They will understand if we talk to them, with it not being a hate crime, it'll be a much simpler message to say, 'wrong place, wrong time, will you please come,'" Truman said.