A former school teacher and colleagues of Indian American Mainak Sarkar have expressed shock and sadness over news of the researcher fatally shooting his wife and a University of California-Los Angeles professor before turning the gun on himself.
Sarkar, 38, fatally shot engineering professor William Klug, 39, in his office at UCLA on June 1. Klug had refused to give him a passing grade. Before killing Klug, he killed his wife, Ashley Hasti, who was found dead in Brooklyn Park, in Minnesota.
Sarkar passed his ICSE exam from St. Michael’s School in Durgapur town of West Bengal’s Burdwan district, before passing Class 11 and 12 from another school. Lily Chowdhury, a biology teacher at St. Michael’s, described the news of the shootout as “very shocking.”
“He was a very brilliant student, meritorious student, I should say. He was one of the toppers of the class. He was the pride of our school,” said Chowdhury. She remembers Sarkar as “very well behaved.”
Some Indian researchers in the U.S. said they were “discomfited” that Sarkar, who was an IIT Kharagpur graduate, could commit such a heinous crime. Researcher Sohini Ray, who was in “lockdown” for around two hours along with her lab mates in a UCLA building, said taking someone’s life was not justifiable.
“It’s a very sad affair. We do not know what transpired internally but taking someone’s life is not justifiable and whether the person had tried to solve the problem through another method before taking the drastic step is not clear. Not just as a Bengali but as an Indian, I feel sad,” Ray told a local TV channel.
Sarkar had written the names of Klug and his wife in a note, titled “Kill List,” that police found while searching his residence. The third person Sarkar intended to kill was another professor at UCLA. However, the faculty member was off-campus June 1.
IIT-Kharagpur director Partha Pratim Chakrabarti June 2 expressed grief at the “senseless loss of life.” “We are extremely sad at this senseless loss of life and our hearts go out to the families who lost their loved ones,” Chakrabarti said when asked about the development. Shubham Goel, an economics major at University of California, Los Angeles, was in class with fellow students when all hell appeared to break loose June 1.
Indian Institute of Technology graduate and former UCLA doctoral student, Sarkar, 38, shot to death his professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, William Klug, 39, in a small room in Engineering Building 4 on South Campus. His killing spree however, had begun earlier, in Minnesota, where the body of a medical student he married in 2011 was found.
“What actually happened on our campus was very different from what we were led to believe (through the alerts and rumors),” Goel recalls. But the terror was etched in their memories and even into the day after the horrific incident, students were afraid to go back to campus, he said.
Gupta indicated that the competitive academic environment at UCLA could be difficult, and recalled his own experience. “A few years ago, some student thought I had taken his work. I hadn’t but he made a big deal about it. UCLA is a pressure cooker in that sense,” Gupta said.
“There’s been no racializing of the incident,” said Gupta. The main conversation among students is focused around issues of mental health, and the academic pressure to excel, he said rather than the shooter’s ethnicity. “There is also a lot of discussion going on about gun policies,” he added. Chief of LAPD Charlie Beck told reporters Sarkar had two semi-automatic weapons legally purchased.
Details given by the police and media reports about Sarkar’s background, as well as his Web entries, reveal that after IIT he did his Masters at Stanford University and got his doctorate from UCLA in 2013. A professor at IIT-Kharagpur’s aerospace department said he recalled that Sarkar, “a brilliant student,” was from Kolkata, according to The Hindustan Times. “He remained busy with studies and did not talk or socialize much.” The newspaper also reported that he had worked for Infosys in Bangalore before coming to the U.S.