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Sunday, December 16, 2007

300 attend memorial for slain Andhra students in US

More than 300 people attended a memorial service for two slain Indian doctoral students, filling the ballroom at the Louisiana State University (LSU) Student Union.

Chandrasekhar Reddy Komma, 31, a biology student from Hyderabad, and Kiran Kumar Allam, 33, a chemistry student from Kurnool, were fatally shot late on Thursday at Edward Gay Apartments, a student-housing complex at Baton Rouge, the state capital.

The apartment complex is home to 288 residents, 94 per cent of whom are international students. With a contingent of 332, Indians form the largest group of international students from a single country at LSU.

At Friday night's memorial service, university provost Astrid Merget said, "What transpired last night was simply a profound tragedy. It was also... an assault on the community."

Pallavi Rastogi, an assistant professor of English at LSU, agreed saying she felt shell-shocked all day.

"I think it really hit us close in two ways: one, that it was at LSU, where we work; and the second, that it happened to someone from India, someone who followed the kind of trajectory that we had," she said.

"We also came here as graduate students and got our PhDs."

"People come here thinking that they'll have a better life, better career opportunities, and then it's all cut short in a brutal fashion," she said. "It's just really strange to feel this way for someone you've never met, but I think it's resonating with all of us."

Fareed Aboul-ela, an assistant professor in the Biology Department, told local media that he taught both men. "They were delightful people, very lively," he said.

Dheeraj Singireddy, who attended the ceremony Friday, described Allam as a close friend whom he had met during his time with the Indian Student Association.

Allam "was very helpful to other Indian guys, new guys who had just come over and are new to LSU," said Singireddy, who moved to Baton Rouge from India to pursue a master's degree in electrical engineering.

Gopu Vikram was among a group of Allam's friends gathered Friday morning with Allam's wife and mother at a student housing complex on Nicholson Drive.

Allam's pregnant wife, whom Vikram declined to name, was in a state of shock, he said. Allam's mother flew into Baton Rouge Saturday morning.

Matthew Gilbert, who had coffee with Komma once or twice a week, said Komma and his wife had just got married.

"He was a wonderful guy with a lot of friends," he said. "He was unique in the Indian community in that he really reached out to Americans."

Terry Bricker, a professor of basic sciences who worked with Komma in his laboratory two years ago, said Komma recently passed his general exam to become a doctoral candidate.

"That was a milestone for him," Bricker said, "which kind of makes this even more difficult to take."

Meanwhile, the double slaying has left many students worried about their safety.

LSU doctoral student Sachin Chintawar, who lives in the Edward Gay Apartments, told the Baton Rouge Advocate he was "totally shocked" about the shootings and feels unsafe on campus.

"Everybody is talking about moving," said Chintawar, who was a neighbour and acquaintance of Allam.

"There is no safety at all here," said Chintawar, who moved away from Tiger Manor, another apartment complex on the campus, because of safety concerns. "Off campus there is no safety. On campus there is no safety."

Hemant Chowdhary, who has lived at Edward Gay for three years while pursuing his PhD in civil engineering, dubbed the complex "famously insecure" and implored authorities to step up security there permanently.

"We're always living in kind of a shadow of fear," he said. "Three hundred apartments may deserve slightly more (security) than what we presently have."

The last time someone was killed on LSU's campus was the early 1990s. But several apartment residents cited by the Advocate said that during the past month several incidents have made them feel unsafe.

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