After her husband was shot and killed, Sunayana Dumala reeled from the tragedy. But through her pain and grief, she has found herself surrounded by love, empathy and comfort.
It is this enduring feeling of hope for the future — for both her life and the future of America as it reconciles itself with hate crime after hate crime — that carried her each step forward in a Walk for Peace this weekend.
Dumala led more than 130 members of the community in the second annual Walk for Peace to honor the life of her husband, Srinivas Kuchibhotla, a Garmin engineer from India who was shot and killed in February 2017. Mindy Corporon, whose family members were also victims of a hate crime, accompanied Dumala to lead the two-mile walk to and from Austins Bar & Grill, the site of the shooting.
“I cannot undo what has happened to me, but then I want to make sure that my husband does not just remain as a hate crime statistic,” she said. “He is remembered for who he is.”
Once at Austins, everyone laid flowers at the roots of a tree below Kuchibhotla’s picture. Then they returned to Garmin and planted a tree on the corporate campus in honor of Kuchibhotla, symbolizing new growth for the future. Dumala also gave tree saplings to participants so they can grow their own trees as well.
Corporon gave a prayer with Hindu and Christian messaging. Participants also heard remarks from Olathe councilmember Karin Brownlee, as well as Ian Grillot, who had intervened during the Austins shooting.
The Walk for Peace is a time for Kuchibhotla’s circle to find healing and to celebrate who he was as a person. At the time of his death, he was working on getting Garmin on board with doing auto-pilot systems for helicopters. After he died, the contracts he was working on for that project were awarded to Garmin.
“I’m happy that his dream was fulfilled, getting Garmin into a new area and trying to do that for what he wanted to achieve,” she said. “His work was his pride.”
Dumala’s immigration status depended on Kuchibhotla’s work visa, so after he died, then-Congressman Kevin Yoder helped her attain her work visa so she can continue working toward permanent residency.
She hopes that by sharing her story, she can provide comfort for others who have gone through similar tragedy while also demonstrating the best in America.
“One man’s action doesn’t define who we are as a community,” Dumala said. “The community proved it as soon as the incident happened when this one man showed me the worst of America…But then, the way the community came and showered love and wrapped their arms around me, to say that they are with me in this journey — that’s a community we all believe in. That’s America we believe in.”