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‘He just popped up’: Police investigating this man in UMKC student’s killing were ambushed

‘He just popped up’: Police investigating this man in UMKC student’s killing were ambushed

For a week, Kansas City police searched for a man thought to be involved in the July 6 killing of a college student from India, who was shot during an attempted robbery.

On Sunday, they found him.

But when two undercover officers conducting surveillance approached the man, he shot them with a rifle and fled, leaving both officers injured.

That encounter touched off a series of gunfights between the man and police. In all, three officers were injured and the potential suspect was killed.

Starting with the attack on the two undercover officers at a motel on U.S. 40 in east Kansas City, the shootings continued an hour later at a home about two miles to the west and then ended after a short standoff and the suspect’s death.

In the process, the neighborhood around East 31st Street and Van Brunt Boulevard started to look like a war zone, with helicopters, an armored car and tactical teams swarming the area along with dozens of police.

When the gunfire stopped Sunday afternoon, the three injured officers were being treated at a hospital and were expected to survive.

The shooting suspect, who had been a person of interest in the July 6 homicide, died in the shootout with police at a home in the 2900 block of Topping Avenue. He has not yet been named by police.

The investigation that led detectives on Sunday to the scene of the first shooting began nine days earlier, when an armed robber shot and killed Sharath Koppu, a 25-year-old student at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Koppu, a software engineer who came to Kansas City six months ago, had been working on a master’s degree and was helping out a family friend at J’s Fish and Chicken Market, 412 Prospect Ave.

About 7 p.m. that Friday, a man with a gun came in and demanded money. Koppu, who was not an employee and didn’t know how to work the register, ran. The robber shot him in the back, killing him.

Within a day, homicide detectives working the case had released surveillance video of a possible suspect. A few tips came in. Soon, police had identified a man they called a person of interest.

Detectives were looking for the man all week, said Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith, speaking with reporters after the shooting on Sunday.

On Sunday morning, undercover and tactical police were conducting surveillance on the man. Sometime before noon, they were following him.

“This is the first time we laid eyes on him,” Smith said.

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Two undercover detectives followed a car the man was riding in to the Sky Vu Motel at 8300 E. U.S. 40.

“That’s when the engagement took place,” Smith said. “Kind of unexpectedly.”

The man shot the two undercover officers with a rifle and escaped along with a second person in a vehicle, according to police. The vehicle and the other person were soon found by police, but the shooting suspect remained at large.

The two injured officers were taken to a hospital in stable condition. Their injuries were not thought to be life-threatening.

“It was a whole bunch of gunfire, exchanging back and forth,” said Lester Kelby, who was staying at the motel and woke up to the noise. He took cover in the bathroom. “It was very frightening.”

Police called in reinforcements, and soon dozens of officers flooded the area, setting up a wide perimeter and shutting down nearby highways.

Within about an hour, police focused their search on a neighborhood near East 31st Street and Topping Avenue. They set up a command post at the former East Patrol building nearby at 27th Street and Van Brunt Boulevard, where the parking lot filled with dozens of police and fire department vehicles. An armored car rumbled down the street and two helicopters circled overhead.

At nearby United Believers Community Church, 5445 E. 29th St., police alerted the congregation that the shooter might be in the area.

Edward Newsome, the 72-year-old chairman of the Board of Deacons and a Vietnam war veteran, took it upon himself to form a defensive plan, he said.

Newsome, who is also a former Kansas City school board president, stationed men at all the church entrances.

“They knew to fight if they had to fight,” Newsome said. “I was never afraid, because of my background and experience. The congregants were probably a little frightened.”

After the benediction, Newsome made an announcement about the situation and told everyone to remain calm. Just then, they heard a barrage of gunfire.

When it was time to leave, Newsome had everyone exit the church in groups of seven and told them not to talk to anyone as they got in their cars.

As police canvassed the neighborhood, the shooting started again about 1 p.m., injuring a third police officer.

“We had several locations going on in the neighborhood that we were looking at, places where he could’ve been,” Smith said. “One of those places popped up, we didn’t know he was there, and he just popped up all of a sudden and engaged the officers.

“All of a sudden there were more shots fired and another detective was hit, I believe in the forearm.”

After this second shooting, the suspect entered a nearby house and a short standoff followed.

About 1:15 p.m., the suspect came out of the house and exchanged gunfire with police a third time. He was shot and declared dead at the scene, according to police.

For hours after the shooting, police continued to investigate the area but said they were not actively looking for any other suspects. It was unclear if the suspect had any connection to the house he entered.

Around 8 p.m., police tweeted out the first photos of the bullet-ridden vehicle that was fired upon by the suspect at the original scene on U.S. 40. One bullet appeared to have entered directly through the officer’s passenger side window. A number of other bullet holes were located on the body, hood and door of the vehicle.

The vehicle photos were posted about an hour after police confirmed via Twitter that there were no other suspects at-large or potentially inside of the Topping Avenue residence.

After the shooting, police said again that the dead man had been a person of interest in the killing of Koppu. Police officials did not say whether they had determined if he was the man seen in the surveillance video from the homicide.

UMKC Chancellor C. Mauli Agrawal praised the police, especially the three injured officers, in a statement on Sunday afternoon.

Smith said he thanked God the injured officers seemed likely to recover, and that he appreciated all the law enforcement response to the shooting.

“The response, it was huge,” Smith said. “There were a ton of people who came out today. The support has been overwhelming, so I’ve got to say thank you to everyone.