After dinner with friends in his Little Havana apartment late Saturday night, Sai Kiran Aila sat around chatting in the hallway, got a call on his cellphone, lit a cigarette and went outside.
A few minutes later he was dead, several bullets puncturing the body of the 22-year-old native of India who had come to America with friends only a month earlier to obtain a graduate degree in information technology at a Miami school.
His friends, so naive of the dangers, they said, heard a brief commotion outside — but thought nothing of it.
“This happened in a minute. We didn’t think it was a shooting sound,” said Krishna Katukam, a friend. “His family wants us to bring the body back to India as soon as possible.”
Police believe the assailant ran west on Southwest Sixth Street just before 2:30 a.m. Sunday. They have grainy video from the building, but not much else to go on. Some people in the neighborhood heard noises, but police haven’t found anyone who witnessed the shooting.
Detectives deduced the shooter wanted Kiran Aila’s cellphone, after speaking with the person Kiran Aila was talking to when he was shot. On the line: another friend from India who had moved to Mississippi, also for studies.
“The friend said he heard a guy say, ‘Give me your cellphone,’” said Miami Police Sgt. Altarr Williams.
With little information to go on, police welcomed Kiran Aila’s friends Wednesday afternoon at police headquarters. They spoke about their dreams, how Kiran Aila’s family was suffering, and discussed what little they said they knew about the incident.
Hari Kumar Katroth, who shared the Little Havana apartment with Kiran Aila, said they moved to Miami from a city called Hyderabad, a center of India’s technology industry, about a month ago to get a master’s degree in information technology at Atlantis University. The school has a large Indian student population, and recruits heavily in Asia.
The school announced Kiran Aila’s death on its website, invited students to a gathering Monday, and is offering counseling.
“This is, indeed, a time of great sadness for all of us. The loss of our beloved student Sai Kiran reminds us about how precious life can be,” the school wrote.
Kumar Katroth said Kiran Aila’s family hasn’t been able to come to the U.S., and are stunned by his death. They keep asking that the body be returned as quickly as possible. He said the friends ate dinner at their apartment at 1043 SW Sixth St., at about 11:30 p.m., then went out into the hallway to talk.
Kumar Katroth said they haven’t made many friends since moving to Miami in May. They chose the Miramar apartment complex in Little Havana because it’s relatively inexpensive and not far from Atlantis University on Biscayne Boulevard and 14th Street.
Their lives pretty much consist of going to school, then going home, Kumar Katroth said. On the weekends they relax, but usually among themselves — no nightclub visits for this group, he said.
When Kiran Aila’s phone rang early Sunday, Kumar Katroth said his friend stepped outside. Williams, the detective, said Kiran Aila was killed on the sidewalk just in front of the apartment building. Police said there’s evidence that a brief struggle happened before the shooting. They don’t believe the shooter had a car.
Williams said he fled quickly, leaving behind Kiran Aila’s cellphone and some jewelry.
“The victim came here to further his education and study. He was minding his own business. This was very cold-blooded,” Williams.
The detective said police are still talking to witnesses and checking to see whether there were other similar robbery attempts that night nearby.
“He doesn’t have any other relations here,” said Kumar Katroth. “He only knows me and my friend. We had dinner at 11:30, then we sat in the hall joking around. He received a call and went downstairs. Steps should be taken by the government to take away all those guns.”
Added Krishna Katukam: “We never see this type of thing in India. He was such a good person. He goes to school and comes home. This happened in a minute.”