KANSAS CITY — Sujendra Amarasingham escaped the violence in his homeland of Sri Lanka only to find it lurking in the parking lot of a gas station in Kansas City.
His parents sent him to the United States to get him away from a decades-long civil war that killed more than 70,000 people, friends said.
“They sent him here to be safe,” said Jonathan Williams, a classmate at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
Amarasingham, 25, was one semester away from graduating with a degree in electrical and computer engineering with an emphasis in power distribution and control systems. He planned to pursue a master’s degree, possibly on the West Coast, Williams said.
But a masked gunman ambushed Amarasingham while he was reportedly taking out some trash about 4:40 a.m. Tuesday at Inner City Oil, 5901 Swope Parkway, where Amarasingham had worked part-time for about three months. The killer shot him, stepped over him and stole merchandise from the store.
A customer who showed up minutes later saw Amarasingham mortally wounded on the floor and stepped over him to steal from the register.
Another customer called police about 20 minutes later, but it was too late. Amarasingham was pronounced dead at a hospital.
Peaches Brinston, who works at Inner City Oil, described Amarasingham as a “beautiful spirit” and a “happy-go-lucky guy.” He just didn’t understand how tough the neighborhood could be. A few weeks before the slaying, a thief reached through the store’s window and stole Amarasingham’s wallet, which was on the counter, she said.
“He was naive to the fact that he was in a bad neighborhood,” Brinston said. “He didn’t deserve this.”
Imtiaz “Easy” Moknijia, the store’s owner, echoed her: “He made a small mistake, and he trusted people.”
The store plans to offer a $10,000 reward in the case, said spokesman Jeremy Ploeger.
Williams said he met Amarasingham in January 2009.
“He just approached me and started talking,” Williams said. “We just hit it off. He was so nice. That’s why I liked him so much.”
Williams said Amarasingham was very intelligent; loved Kansas City and UMKC; and had a positive, gracious attitude.
“He was the type of kid who never had anything bad to say about anybody,” said Williams, who added that Amarasingham regularly offered to buy food and gifts for people.
The Ad Hoc Group Against Crime sponsored a prayer vigil Wednesday evening at the crime scene. It drew dozens of people, including many UMKC students, clergy and neighbors.
Amarasingham’s parents live in Sri Lanka, and he has a sister, friends said. Relatives were expected to arrive Wednesday night in Kansas City.
Police were still looking for the killer and opportunistic customer. Investigators were sifting through tips called in after the release of store surveillance photos.