By Ashok Sharma and Manik Banerjee
KOLKATA, India (AP) — Residents of an east Indian industrial town were shocked to recognize the face of a man they remember as a diligent student as the person who allegedly shot a UCLA engineering professor before killing himself in California.
But they said it’s been years since they’ve heard from Mainak Sarkar, who left Durgapur in the state of West Bengal for a life in the United States.
Police say that before he killed UCLA professor William Klug on June 1, Sarkar had already killed a woman in Minnesota — his estranged wife, according to relatives, neighbors and public records. The 38-year-old Indian-American engineer had reportedly put both victims on a “kill list” police later found in his Minnesota apartment.
A former classmate at Durgapur’s Bidhan Institute — where Sarkar studied for two years after high school before attending the Indian Institute of Technology in Kharagpur — said he was “totally stupefied” by the news of the shooting.
“Mainak was a very good student. In school, he looked so innocent and was well-behaved,” said Mridul, who like many people in India uses only one name. “We were not in touch after he left for the United States.”
A former teacher at the school also remembered Sarkar as a solid student.
“His behavior was good and normal,” Gautam Biswas said. “This shooting is a shock to us. I can’t imagine that Mainak is involved in such a shocking incident.”
Sarkar grew up in Durgapur, where his father worked as a clerk in a cement manufacturing company named the Associated Cement Companies Babcok. As a boy, he attended St. Michael’s School until his early teens.
“Sarkar’s face looked familiar when I saw his picture in the media,” said Sumita Mukherjee, who was secretary to the principal at St. Michael’s when Sarkar attended. “I spoke to some teachers of that time. They said he was good in studies and cracked the top-ranking Indian Institute of Technology test. They also say he was well behaved, but a little introverted.”
Sarkar did not show up at the school’s last reunion in 2014, Mukherjee said. “As far as I know, he didn’t maintain contact with his schoolmates on social media,” she said.
Sarkar earned a degree in aerospace engineering in 2000 from the IIT at Kharagpur and moved to the United States. A neighbor who lived three houses from his family’s home in Durgapur, 110 miles north of Kolkata, said his parents didn’t hear from him after that. According to his LinkedIn page, he later obtained a master’s degree at Stanford University.
“He did not keep in touch with his parents after moving to the United States, and they used to be very upset about it,” said Purnima Maity. She said Sarkar’s father and mother both died several years ago, and his sister married and moved to Kolkata. Maity did not know if the two siblings had been in touch.
At the IIT in Kharagpur on June 3, the dean of the aerospace engineering department said the news of an alumnus being linked to such a crime was “very shocking.” But neither he nor other professors remembered much about Sarkar.
“As teachers, we remember outstanding students or those who come back to us seeking recommendations for post-graduate studies. It appears he was neither,” one of his former teachers, M.K. Laha, told the Times of India.