When two students were shot and killed execution style inside a graduate student apartment complex at Louisiana State University, the campus police and community realized they had a serious security problem.
“There was this reaction of shock that this could happen on campus,” said Captain Cory Lalonde, Public Information Officer for the LSU Police Department.
Chandrasekhar Reddy Komma and Kiran Kumar Allam, both graduate students from India, were killed during the attempted robbery of their campus apartment December 14, 2007. According to police reports, Allam’s then-pregnant wife found Allam, 31, and Komma, 33, dead in the apartment at around 10:37 p.m.
The men were each shot once in the head, said Charles Zewe, an LSU system spokesman. Komma was bound with a yellow Ethernet cable and shot in the back of the head. Allam was found on the ground near the door, his hand bloodied from when it was crushed in the doorway during his attempt to escape. He was also shot in the back of the head.
They were killed for the $40 in Allam’s wallet and a cell phone, according to police.
The double homicide sent shockwaves throughout the campus community.
“You read about these things happening, but you never think it could happen to you or one of your own,” said Department of Chemistry Chair and one of Allam’s advisors Andrew Maverick in an interview with The Daily Reveille.
The murders rippled through international communities, too, who felt especially vulnerable to violent attacks, said Maureen Hewitt, manager of the International Cultural Center at LSU, in an interview with The Advocate.
“I didn’t know about it until the next day,” Hewitt said. “It was just a great shock that this happened to this particular group.”
The immediate backlash from the campus community was widespread.
The student newspaper, The Daily Reveille, posted what several Indian students complained to Hewitt were “insensitive comments’ about the University’s response – the university did not even cancel classes the next day, yet The Reveille praised LSU for “going on with business as usual.” The LSU emergency text-message system called the incident an “opportunity for the university to test its new system,” igniting outrage that anything positive came out of the murders.
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Trying to look at the positive, Lalonde said the campus has become more vigilant in reporting suspicious behavior since the murders.
“It created a higher sense of awareness in the campus community, which is a good thing,” said Lalonde. “Being alert and aware is very important in crime prevention efforts.”
LSU built vehicle and pedestrian fences around the Edward Gay Apartments, where the murders occurred, and added security cameras across campus, said Lalonde. The LSU PD increased the number of patrol officers on campus and formed community safety groups for residential buildings in response to the murders.
The LSU PD also expanded their availability of crime data. The mapping system LSU uses highlights “danger zones,” or high-crime concentration areas so students can be more aware of the risks around campus, Lalonde said.
Some of the measures seemed to be working – crime dropped on campus from 2009-2011. The results were temporary, however, and crime began to increase again in 2012.
“While we work very hard to make this campus as safe as we can, we are not immune to crime,” said Lalonte.
Even with the additional security, LSU continues to struggle with on-campus crime. There have been 43 robberies, 51 aggravated assaults, 239 burglaries, 19 reported rapes and 1,930 thefts on campus since 2008.
Off-campus crimes involving students tend to be more violent, with more armed robberies occurring on the boundaries of campus, according to statistics from the Baton Rouge Police Department. In 2012, 19 people were murdered within three blocks of the campus boundaries. A student was shot in the stomach just blocks from campus less than two weeks ago during a botched robbery.
The increase in campus robberies, in particular, has not gone unnoticed by the students.
Jia Peng, an international graduate student in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, said he parks as close as he can to his building so that he can “rush into the car” when he is done with work.
Two of Peng’s friends were robbed on Alvin Dark Drive after the LSU-Furman game on Oct. 26, a fact that he said has made him feel unsafe as an international student. Other students say simply crossing campus alone makes them feel vulnerable.
“I don’t feel safe walking home at night,” said Jacob Romer, a graduate student in the College of Renewable Natural Resources. “It’s really scary to think that two people were murdered in cold blood on campus and you hear almost nothing about it.”
The murders drifted in and out of the spotlight through the years, but resurfaced on Oct. 8 when two of the men on trial for the murders, Michael Lewis and Casey Gathers of Baton Rouge, were acquitted of all charges. A third suspect in the case, Devin Parker of Baton Rouge, was sentenced to 32 years in prison for his involvement in the crime after he testified against Lewis and Gathers. That decision was handed out Oct. 30.
Parker testified that the three drove around drunk that night looking for “easy targets.” They spotted Komma and Allan, followed them, forced them into the apartment and shot them when they tried to flee and call for help, according to Parker’s testimony. There was $40 in the wallet Parker stole.
LSU dedicated an area outside of the International Cultural Center to Komma and Allam. Said Hewitt. The Komma and Allam Remembrance Garden was completed last year and overlooks a small grassy area where the two would occasionally meet. On campus, it’s the only reminder of a grisly crime that set the tone for the next six years of how the campus police look at campus safety.