KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Friends and family gathered to remember a UMKC student who was killed July 6 during an armed robbery near 54th Street and Prospect Avenue.
Despite the somber reason for the gathering, organizers wanted to foster a positive atmosphere in keeping with the spirit of the slain student, Sharath Koppu — a 25-year-old native of India, who was studying computer science.
“He’s a jovial person,” said Sai Sriharsha, Koppu’s roommate. "He always has this smile on his face. There’s no moment without a smile on his face."
Sriharsha spent time with Koppu’s family when they came to Kansas City. He said Koppu, who was working on a master's degree, came to UMKC in January after working for 3 1/2 years as a computer engineer in India.
Koppu hoped to remain in the U.S. as a data engineer.
“He was trying to be successful, help others," Sriharsha said. "He was trying to spread positivity. He always goes an extra length to make the thing better and more beautiful.”
Professors agreed, noticing the way he spoke in class and made small talk in the elevator.
“The way he interacted with me is unique to Sarath,” Director of international Degree Collaboration Vijay Kumar said.
Dr. Yugyung Lee, a professor in the Department of Computer Science Electrical Engineering, said she remembered how bright Koppu was and how eager he was to help other students.
Several school leaders — including UMKC’s chancellor, provost, vice provost and UMKC’s chief of police — also spoke.
Chief Michael Bongartz reminded students if they ever feel unsafe that they can talk with someone in the department and reach out for assistance. UMKC also has provided counselors for anyone who needs help during this troubling time.
Sriharsha described the last week as “extreme emotional distress,” but said he is determined to carry on Koppu’s legacy.
“The helping nature he had, the hard-working nature,” Sriharsha said. “He always goes the extra step to make things more beautiful.”
UMKC Vice Provost and Dean of the School of Computing and Engineering Kevin Truman reminded the students, friends and family that if you love someone, they are never really lost.
“If you can keep that memory alive for two minutes or one minute a day, he will live on forever,” Truman said.
Professors hope community members who knew Koppu will look for social and technical solutions, since problem-solving was his passion.
Police still are looking for the man shown in a surveillance video at J’s Fish and Chicken Market on the night Koppu was killed, but tips have been slow to materialize.
CrimeStoppers of Kansas City is offering a $10,000 reward for information that leads to the arrest of Koppu's murderer.
Friends, family or anyone else touched by the tragedy are invited to bring cards to the UMKC Administrative Center, 5115 Oak Street, through Thursday. The cards and a book of signatures will be sent to Koppu’s family in India on Friday.