Eastern Michigan University graduate among 8 dead in Texas mall shooting

An Eastern Michigan University graduate was among the eight killed Saturday afternoon at a Texas mall shooting, the second deadliest in the United States this year. Even though the tragedy was more than 1,000 miles from Michigan, it still hits home.

Aishwarya Thatikonda, the university confirmed, was a project manager with a Texas construction firm and had gone to the mall with a friend. Reports said her friend was injured in the shooting and he is in stable condition at a hospital.

Several accounts said they had gone shopping days ahead of Thatikonda's 28th birthday.

News reports portrayed Thatikonda, who was an engineer from India and had come to Ypsilanti to pursue a master’s degree, as a woman starting a career full of promise. Her Texas office, TV reports showed, is now full of flowers.

Choking back tears, the owner of the construction firm, Srinivas Chaluvadi, told KXAS-TV in Fort Worth, Texas, said he thought of Thatikonda as a daughter. In other interviews, he said,he hoped she would become the company's CEO, and she hoped to get married, buy a house — and settle in America.

In an email to the Free Press early Tuesday, one of Thatikonda's professors at EMU, Ben Ilozor, praised his student's scholarship and determination. He said she had taken one of his classes in summer 2019, and as she moved to Texas she connected with him on LinkedIn, a business-focused social media platform.

"For a moment, I was first in denial that the victim was not our own Aishwarya," Ilozor said. "But unfortunately, I could not wish it away. She was a committed and hardworking A-grade student in this class, and we will miss her dearly. May her gentle soul rest in peace."

In a public statement released Monday, EMU said it is deeply saddened by Thatikonda's death.

"She will forever be remembered as a strong Eastern Michigan University Eagle," the university said. "As the nation has to once again grapple with a senseless act of gun violence, we share our condolences with Aishwarya's family and friends."

A memorial was set up outside the Allen Premium Outlets mall in Texas, on Sunday, May 7, honoring the eight people killed by a gunman who opened fire on Saturday.
A memorial was set up outside the Allen Premium Outlets mall in Texas, on Sunday, May 7, honoring the eight people killed by a gunman who opened fire on Saturday.

According to reports, police said a 33-year-old man identified as Mauricio Garcia fired into a crowd at about 3:30 p.m. at the Allen Premium Outlets, just north of Dallas. In addition to the eight people who were slain, seven others were wounded, and authorities fatally shot the gunman.

Federal agents, who reviewed social media accounts they believe Garcia had been using, said he had expressed interest in white supremacist and neo-Nazi views, the Associated Press reported.

He also, the reports said, had an RWDS patch on his chest when he was shot dead by police. Authorities said RWDS stands for Right Wing Death Squad, which is a popular phrase among right-wing extremists and white supremacy groups.

So far this year, 22 mass shootings have resulted in at least 115 deaths, according to a database maintained by the Associated Press, USA Today and Northeastern University. The deadliest shooting so far this year was Jan. 21 at a dance in Monterey Park, California. Eleven people were killed and nine wounded.

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Thatikonda, who graduated from Eastern Michigan in December 2020, earned a master of science degree in construction management, the university said. After graduation, she moved to McKinney, Texas, just north of Allen.

Her family, reports added, would like her body returned to India.

Contact Frank Witsil: 313-222-5022 or fwitsil@freepress.com.

Campus memorial service

An event to remember Aishwarya Thatikonda is scheduled for 2 to 4 p.m. Wednesday at Eastern Michigan University's Lake House. It has been organized by the Indian Student Association at Eastern Michigan University and the International Student Association. EMU President James Smith and counseling and psychological services are set to be on hand.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Eastern Michigan grad Aishwarya Thatikonda killed in Texas shooting