Ashok Kolla spent hours over the weekend working to locate and identify the body of a young Indian woman whose whereabouts were unknown following Saturday’s mass shooting at the Allen Premium Outlets mall.
Kolla ventured to the mall on Sunday morning in hopes of finding Aishwarya Thatikonda, who came to the US five years ago to study and pursue her dreams as an engineer.
“We went to the coroner’s office at 10:30 in the morning,” Kolla said. “We were lucky enough to meet one of the officers. He started exchanging identification marks. … It took a while to figure it out.
Early Sunday evening, the Collin County Medical Examiner’s Office confirmed Thatikonda’s identity using fingerprints. Some of her cousins also helped identify her 26-year-old, whose birthday was reportedly May 18.
Kolla, 36, is a volunteer with the Telugu Association of North America, a non-profit organization formed in 1977 that intervenes when someone in the Indian community is injured or killed in the United States or Canada.
In addition to promoting cultural heritage and engaging in charity, TANA also seeks to reunite or connect victims in North America with their families, who often reside somewhere in India.
“I think TANA is probably the only organization that can accelerate this whole process,” Kolla said.
However, the process of recovering a body and gaining more information about someone whose family is thousands of miles away is often complicated. Without an organization like TANA, it could take up to a week for family to know what happened to their loved one, Kolla said.
“We’ve streamlined the process from six or seven days to 36 to 48 hours,” said Kolla, who lives in Frisco. While Kolla has helped families deal with unfortunate incidents before, this was the first time he’d handled a mass shooting so close to home.
Thatikonda’s family is based in Hyderabad, a city in the Indian state of Telangana which she last visited in December for her brother’s wedding. The Indian Express reported. It was early Monday morning in their time zone when they learned of his death.
Thatikonda’s brother, Srikanth Reddy Thatikonda, spoke on the phone with Kolla, speaking on behalf of his family and providing information about his sister. Thatikonda’s mother had not been informed of her daughter’s death when Kolla last called, she said.
After obtaining a death certificate and making several calls to the Indian consulate in Houston, Kolla coordinated with an airline to return Thatikonda’s body to Hyderabad.
“I pray to God to give [her family] enough strength to handle the situation,” Kolla said, adding that “she came to the United States with such a bright future.”
For Kolla, a software engineer who emigrated from India in 2007, Thatikonda’s life represented the hopes of many Indians. After graduating from Eastern Michigan University, she moved to Texas to work at Frisco-based Perfect General Contractors.
“Coming to the United States is a dream come true for many Indians,” Kolla said. “When we arrive, we have no immediate family or anyone. We are leaving our family miles and miles away from home.”
Nearly 220,000 American Indians live in North Texas, and TANA aims to serve this population, especially those who have moved to the United States without immediate family.
“We have no one to help us when an unfortunate incident occurs, and we feel it is our responsibility as an organization to help everyone in our community,” Kolla said.