Lakshman Gogada and two roommates hopped onto a bus one evening last month on their way to shop for a Wi-Fi router for their new apartment on the city’s South Side.
They were “five steps” from entering a Walmart when they were robbed at gunpoint and Gogada’s roommates — both of whom had arrived from India only 10 days earlier — were shot, one fatally, Gogada told the Tribune.
“I was saved by God’s grace, but they both were hit by bullets,” said Gogada, 22, who was not injured when, according to police, five people pulled up to them in a stolen 2020 Kia Forte on Jan. 22, at the students walked through a parking lot on South Holland Road.
“We just gave the phone and money, but they only took the money and left the phones, and even after giving, they just shot,” Gogada said “After hearing the shot sounds, I just laid down on the ground.”
Devasish Nandepu, 23, was pronounced dead the next morning of a gunshot wound to the back, while Sai Charan Koppala, 22, suffered a gunshot wound to the chest, authorities said. Koppala is expected to be discharged from the hospital soon, according to Gogada.
The three graduate students had recently arrived in Chicago from India to study. Gogada arrived Dec. 18 after enrolling in the spring semester of a graduate program at the Illinois Institute of Technology, while Koppala and Nandepu came from India to start the spring semester at Governors State University.
They became close friends after Gogada, from Visakhapatnam, a city in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, met Koppala and Nandepu, both of Hyderabad, a city in the Indian state of Telangana, and began to room together.
A statement from Governors State University said Nandepu was “killed in a senseless robbery” after having just arrived in the U.S. about 10 days prior to the shooting and beginning classes at the university the week prior.
“While this should be a time of excitement for the new academic semester, we are instead left troubled about the gun violence that prevails in Chicago and throughout this country,” the statement said. “This is the time of year that we should be full of hope and anticipation of what a new semester should bring, instead, we are left wondering what Devasish’s life would have been. This loss is a global trauma as Devasish was an international student.”
The events that led to the shooting began when the trio decided to grab a bus from their apartment to 87th Street and Lafayette Avenue and walk the rest of the way, about a half a mile, to the Walmart at 8431 S. Stewart Ave.
They were almost there when suddenly the Kia pulled up and two gunmen wearing face masks jumped out. One was carrying a “long gun,” possibly a rifle, and the other a handgun, as they “began to demand the victims’ belongings,” according to a Chicago police report.
“Get on the ground,” they yelled, saying they wanted their cellphones and pass codes but after snatching a $5 bill and a $1 bill, without the phones, the attacker with the rifle began to shoot — hitting Koppala and Nandepu, according to the police report.
The shooter got back in the Kia and fled.
“After that, I just called 911 and asked for help. Devasish was conscious at the time, and even he called 911 from his phone. Koppala was spitting blood from his mouth, so I went to him and was keeping him conscious. He was going unconscious, and I made him conscious,” Gogada said. “Then the police and emergency guys came.”
Trucker Kyle Flournoy, 33, from Henrietta, a town near Rochester, New York, was taking a break inside his 18-wheeler, parked on the street between the nearby Lowe’s and Walmart, he said as he recalled the events of that day.
“I heard a couple of pops go off,” said Flournoy. As he turned to look over to where the shots were coming from, he spotted a group of five kids who appeared to be high school age, he said. “They scattered immediately and started running the other way.”
Flournoy then saw a black car with its door open, and a man lying on the ground when the car “revs off — like, hits the gas and pulls off really hard,” he said.
“They were driving directly toward me,” Flournoy said.
Gogada said he was going back and forth between the two hospitals his friends were taken to — the University of Chicago Medical Center and Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn — and trying to get updates from doctors while also staying in touch with police and asking them for news.
Officers found three rifle shell casings at the scene and later found the Kia, still running, in the 8400 block of South Wabash Avenue. Gogada identified it as the one the attackers had used, the police report said.
No arrests had been made as of Friday evening, police said.
A local representative of the Telugu Association of North America told the Tribune he has been involved since the shooting happened by checking up on Koppala in the hospital and keeping in touch with Gogada. TANA is the largest and oldest Indo-American organization in North America, according to its website.
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As the group’s spokesman made his way to the airport to pick up Koppala’s parents, who had traveled to Chicago Thursday to be with their son, he was also in touch with the students’ families back in India and helped facilitate Nandepu’s body being sent back to India.
Vinod Gautam, a consul for the Consulate General of India in Chicago, said he heard about what happened through members of the community and other media sources, and “immediately the consulate visited the hospital to see the students.”
“I had a chance to meet Sai Charan personally for two, three minutes only because he was on medication and doctors were examining him,” Gautam said. “But I went to see him and check if he’s OK and if he needs anything.”
The consulate will continue to be available to Koppala as he recovers for anything he may need, Gautam said.
Gogada said that although the roommates were still getting to know each other, he will cherish the good times they were able to have. He and Nandepu were the cooks of the household and would make meals together, Gogada said, while Koppala would take up dish duty.
“We used to have fun together,” Gogada said. “We would take some small trips around Chicago and have some food in Chicago, like getting Indian street food. It was nice. Devasish was very good. He was very close to my heart.”
Chicago Tribune’s Rosemary Sobol contributed.