Widow Of Murdered Olathe Man Commits To Bridging Cultural Gaps

Dec 6, 2017

Sunayana Dumala says February 22, 2017 is a day she doesn't want to remember.  It was that evening police came to her door in Olathe, Kansas, to tell her her husband had been murdered.

Srinivas Kuchibhotla had decided to go for a drink at Austin's Bar and Grill in Olathe with his friend and colleague from Garmin, where they were both engineers. An angry patron had shouted hate rhetoric at the men, both Indian-born, and returned with a firearm. Kuchibhotla was fatally shot.

Dumala recently told the story of her response to the murder of her husband at a forum at Rockhurst University organized by the New York Times, which has reported extensively on her story. Dumala shared the stage with two other Kansans whose lives have been changed by violence.

One was Ian Grillot, 24 at the time of the Olathe shooting. He was severely injured while chasing the shooter. Also on the stage, Mindy Corporon, who lost her father and 14-year-old son in a shooting at the Jewish Community Center in Overland Park in April 2014. Corporon has responded to her own grief by starting a foundation and creating a week-long series of events to celebrate kindness.

Sunayana Dumala, Mindy Corporon, who lost her husband and son in the JCC shooting in 2014, and Ian Grillot, also injured in the Olathe shooting, at a forum on hate crimes at Rockhurst University.
Credit Laura Ziegler / KCUR 89.3

But Dumala is the one who is just beginning to get out and tell her story in public.

The night she learned her husband had died

Sunayana Dumala became frantic when she saw the news about a shooting at Austin's on Facebook that night in February. Her husband usually checked in and he'd been unreachable.

When she saw the police at her front door she was in shock.

"They said to go someplace where you can sit and be comfortable," she told the crowd Wednesday night at Rockhurst. She heard their words but couldn't believe them. Her husband had died at the hospital. 

When she returned from her husband's funeral in their hometown of Hyderbad, India, Dumala said she was at a loss.

She took to writing a blog

"At that point it was to deal with my pain," Dumala said in an interview. "Me and Srinu, we had a lot of dreams. We built this home, we wanted to raise a family and suddenly it all got shattered." 

She worked through her pain by wondering aloud if this was a country that really wanted people like her.

"Do we belong? This was really a question I had," she said.

But in the weeks and months that followed, Dumala says the outpouring of support convinced her the answer was yes.

Her neighbor brought bags of mail he'd collected while she was away, letters of sympathy and support from all over the world.

Intouch Solutions, where she's a Database Developer, gave her time off when she needed to take care of business. Both her company and Garmin have been "pillars of encouragement and support, motivating and helping me," she says. 

The Fairfield Inn and Suites in Overland Park offered free accommodations for visiting friends and family.

On her good days, Dumala says she knows this is the America she and Kuchibhotla came to when they decided to live, work and start a family here.

"This is what America stands for," she says. "We are one people. We might be different cultures or races or ethnicities, but we should put energy into embracing our differences."

That's what Dumala wants to devote her energies to now. 

She's slowly working on ways to reach out more, to educate people about cultural differences, to bridge cultural gaps. She's been getting advice from Mindy Corporon on planning her own events.

"I'm going to try my best to be here, to spread the message," she says. "But if it gets too tough, I might go back (to India.) But I don't want to give up."

Laura Ziegler is a community engagement reporter and producer. Reach her on twitter @laurazig or email lauraz@kcur.org.