Editor’s note: In one of the more powerful blogs on Facebook, Sunayana Dumala speaks out about the death of her husband Srinivas Kuchibhotla in Kansas. The FBI has classified Kuchibhotla’s death as a hate crime. Her journey to the U.S. began an India and now she wonders is there a place in America who will welcome her.
This is my first official blog post on Facebook, and it is with a heavy heart that I am writing these words. On the dreadful night of Wednesday February 22nd 2017, I lost my husband — my soul mate — my friend and my confidante. He was a source of inspiration, a support system not just to me but to any and all he got to know. He always had a smile for every one, respected all especially his elders. We met in August 2006 through common friends then connected on an online portal called Orkut — not a usual face to face introduction- and started liking each other instantly. He was so charming that I could not resist.
I am the baby of my house, being the youngest with two elder sisters. I grew up to be a carefree child. It was Srinivas who gave me the courage to pursue my dream of coming to the USA and studying, which made me the person I am today — an independent, self-sufficient and strong woman. I started working only recently, May 2016. He’d played a major role in me attaining a job, always encouraging and working with me though my disappointments, especially as I was starting back again after 4 years of a career break.
His passion was to constantly innovate in the the aviation industry. Here in America, he commenced is his career at Rockwell Collins, and he worked On Flight Control System especially on Primary Flight Control Computer that would change the way flights work with improved performances. He dedicated his life to this development. There were days he used to come home to have only dinner and leave for work again – only return around 2 or 3 in the morning. He was very happy at Rockwell and liked living in a small town like Cedar Rapids, Iowa. But we decided to move from there to a bigger city so that I could get a job and be able to pursue my dreams, as he was able to do for himself. Kansas was our instant choice, and we moved here with a lot of dreams. We built our dream home, which he painted, and installed the garage door. Doing any kind of work on his home gave him immense joy. This was the home that he had built to — for us and any kids we would have- was our first step to starting our family. It’s so unfortunate that this dream of ours is now shattered. All of this, because of one person, who did not think of the impact his deed would have on the victim’s family. When police came to our house that night and gave me the news of my husband’s life being taken away by a random shooter, I could not believe their words, it was so surreal. I asked them repeatedly, “Are you sure?”, “Are you telling the truth?”, “Did you see the man you are talking about?”, “Can you show me a picture to identify?”, “Is the man that you are talking about 6′ 2”?” They were just nodding their heads saying yes. With no family here in Kansas and his brother in Dallas, my immediate reaction was to call his brother. When I called him to say what the police had just told me, he thought I was joking.
My friends were by my side and did not leave me for even a second. Friends drove from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Minnesota, and St. Louis. Many flew from Denver, California, and New Jersey to say a final goodbye to their beloved and dearest friend, who was always only kind to them. Both his aunts from NJ and NY came to take care of me and him.
He would have turned 33 on March 9th, and we were planning to fly to NJ for his cousin’s engagement. He was excited and eagerly waiting for the event, and we had plans to shop this past weekend for the trip. Things turned out differently, I was on my way to India with him in a coffin.
We got married after 6 years of close friendship, and it was not an easy process. He had to convince not only his parents but also mine. He met my family multiple times to convince them that he was capable and suitable for their beloved daughter. He answered all their questions with a smile on his face. His charm was such that he instantly became one of the members of my family and became their favorite son-in-law, brother-in-law, and uncle. It is still unbelievable that he is not here.
He found happiness in simple things. One of his most favorite pastimes was watching TV, which he watched with so much passion and intensity. His favorite shows lately were Person of Interest and Indian Idol. He was a family man and liked to eat home-cooked meals. Every night, I used to pack lunch for him and myself. He used to hate packing for himself and used to give me the funniest explanations for not doing so. He would say, “If I pack my lunch, I would know what I would eat later on. But if you pack it, I will have that surprise element.” If anyone gave him a heartful meal, he would bless that person by saying, “Anna datha sukkhi bhava” (a saying in Telugu that translates to, “You made my heart happy with the food, so may God bless you”). This was something many of his friends picked up from him.
He really enjoyed Arnab Goswami during his lunch at work and was eagerly waiting for him to come on.
He loved kids and was an instant favorite of any kid. We were planning to expand our own family and had had a doctor’s appointment just a few weeks ago. One of the last thoughts that he shared with me were “Nani (his nickname for me), we need to save money if we have to end up going for in-vitro to conceive.” I am writing this as it sinks in to me that this dream of ours is now shattered. I really wish we had a child of our own in whom I could at least see Srinivas and make him like Srinu.
He always cared about what was happening around him, and he was very proud of Mr. Narendra Modi ji and India. He was sure that India had finally found the leader that could make India shine. This might seem unreal, but I know because there wasn’t a day that ended without him watching the news or reading multiple newspapers before going to bed.
Srinu was the epitome of optimism. That was his motto. I remember asking him why he’d chosen to pursue digital signal processing and electrical engineering for his master’s degree. He said, “I scored less in that subject in Bachelors of Technology and wanted to explore why I received a lower score.” That was his optimism.
He was really happy to see Sushma Swaraj as the external affairs minister — such a brave and courageous woman, and how quick she reacted for those in need. He must have never thought that he would be one among them one day. But knowing my Srinu, he would have felt very proud of you for helping us and his family in crisis. Thanks again, Madam. I wish I could meet both you and Mr. Modi ji and share his joy posthumously.
He was always worried about immigration and its laws. He followed them very closely over the internet. There were days when he used to talk about how it’s been quite a few years since we applied for our permanent residency card, and he didn’t know how much longer we have to wait for it. He used to say having one would give him the chance to explore even more his passion for the aviation industry. He very closely monitored the H4 EAD rule and did whatever he could do in his capacity for the rule to be passed – not just for me, but for every woman and for those who deserve a career and a chance to fulfill their dreams. He was filled with joy when the rule passed and was so happy that he said, “Nani, now you can work. It is not that we need the money, but it’s so that you can follow your own dreams and make your parents proud.”
His father had a very low-income job, and Srinivas was the middle son of three sons. There wasn’t a day that went by without him mentioning how hard his father worked to make his sons the way they are today, and that he would have to do a lot for his parents. I’m sure, Srinu, that you made them proud, and I wish you didn’t have to leave us. He was a loving brother to both his siblings, especially the younger one, whom he treated like his own son more than a brother. He was elated when the youngest got married back in November 2015.
From what I know or heard from his parents, himself, and his brothers, all three brothers were very naughty. I remember him saying that when the three started to laugh, they would be panicked that in next 5 minutes there would be a fight and something would be broken in the house. As their father was very strict and always wanted them to focus on education, he would always be pushing them to study and many a time would have to run after them to make them sit for their studies. The youngest and eldest always managed to escape first, and Srinu, would always stay behind and get the scolding of all three brothers.
As I mentioned in the press meet, whenever there was an incident involving someone dying, both of us got worried, and I many times spoke my heart to him. We came here to achieve and fulfill our dreams. He always assured me that if we think good, be good, then good will happen to us and that we will be safe. He used to hug me tightly and sleep giving me this assurance. Srinu, now that I have gotten used to that warm hug, I might not be able to sleep. That was the only place in the world that I could sleep without any worries or tensions.
I was able to see random acts of kindness at the Kansas City airport when people recognized me and hugged me. I met a dermatologist who said I changed the purpose of her life. Maybe that was the first win during this fight to spread to love.
I think I can just keep writing and finish a book, but that still isn’t enough to talk about you or the love that you spread around. I’m still trying to digest the fact that in one evening I became a widow from a wife.
Srinu, my love, I don’t know how I’ll be able to fill the void I now have created in my life, but I promise you I’ll never let you down. It is so funny that you were my editor for any important email I had written, but now, for the first time, I am having to do it myself.
I LOVE YOU, AND YOU ARE ALWAYS GOING TO BE MINE.
I wish that you had come home when I asked you to have tea. I have many unanswered questions, and I wish you would answer them, but the only way I could get those answers now is by coming to you and your new home on the other side. I don’t know when that day will come.
My sincere thanks to each one of those who are helping us cope with this loss. I thank, Garmin and its employees, for conducting the vigil and allowing me to speak and share my Srinivas with you all.
Thanks to Mr. Cliff Pemble, the CEO of Garmin, for speaking such kind words about my husband and his contribution to Garmin. I can’t express my happiness that you came to my home to pay your last respects to him, held my hand, and went all around the house hearing his stories. This shows me how important he was to the company. Also, Didier, Dave, Phil, Patrick, Garmin Legal Team, HR Team, and to all those sitting in the auditorium during the vigil, thanks a lot for your support.
Thanks to Mr. Frank, CEO of Intouch Solutions, for assuring me that I can take however long and still come back and continue my job. Thanks for coming home and delivering the message personally. Thanks to Katema, David, and every employee of Intouch Solutions, who came to console me and gave me the same assurance.
Thanks to the Mayor for your kind words, giving us the assurance, and making a personal visit to the house. Also, thank you for making sure we received the privacy we asked for. I was told by Congressmen Yoder and Senator Moran that you were trying to reach out to me. Thanks a lot for your concern and for working on my immigration status. This is my Srinu’s dream, and it is the least I could do for my Srinivas – fulfill his dreams through my eyes – and it is for this I have to come back to the USA.
Thanks to the Detectives and District Attorney Steve for working hard on this case and finding the culprit. I know you will make sure justice is served.
Thanks to the medical team that worked on Srinu and tried hard to revive him back. I truly wish that your efforts had succeeded and he was with us today.
I do not have words to express my gratitude towards Mr. Ian Grillot for what you have done. Thanks for having the courage and trying in whatever way possible to save my husband. When I am back in Olathe, I would like to meet you personally. You and your act of kindness will help me survive and still have the faith in love and spreading love and not hate. I hope you get well soon.
Thanks to all those communities that have come forward and have been praying for Srinivas’s soul and his family’s well being.
Thanks to the funeral home for being so considerate and obliging to our request of sending him to his house, the house that he had built with so many dreams. I have the good luck charm that you gave me. Thank you.
Thanks to the media and press for agreeing to not disturb us and for respecting our privacy. Thanks again, and keep up your good work. A special mention to Ms. Rajini Vaidyanathan
Thanks to people like Satya Nadella and Kamala Harris for supporting through your tweets. It means a lot to us. My sincere request to Mark Zuckerberg, Sundar Pichai, Satya Nadella, and many others to keep advocating your support for human rights. We need to spread love and stop this hatred. Today, it’s an employee of Garmin, tomorrow, it could be one of your employees, and I don’t want anyone to go through what my family and household went through.
Thanks to the Consular General Officers who expedited the process.
Thanks to the government of Telangana for giving us the assurance that his remains will be taken to his house without any problem, and we request the media in India to be considerate of our privacy.
Mr. Amitabh Bachchan sir, there wasn’t a party that ended without us dancing to your songs. Our friends used to fondly call us Amitabh and Jaya because my husband is 6’2” and I am 5 feet. My husband used to say that our kids should be as tall as Abhishek and Shweta. Shah Rukh Khan sir, he was a huge fan of yours, and he made sure we watched your latest movie, Raees. I need all your support to pass this strong message of spreading love and giving confidence to every foreign national that their fight will be listened to.
I will now ask same question — On what basis we decide a person is good or bad, and of course, it’s not based on the color of your skin. So what decides that? Many times, these issues are talked about for a few weeks and people tend to forget about them afterward, but the fight must go on towards eradicating hatred from the minds of people. So what is the government going to do to stop hate crime?
Lastly, to answer the question that is in every immigrant’s mind, DO WE BELONG HERE?
Is this the same country we dreamed of and is it still secure to raise our families and children here?