Garden honors slain pair

Pratik Dhar said he will always associate Dec. 13, the day before his birthday, with the death of his friends Chandrasekhar Reddy Komma and Kiran Kumar Allam. The two were killed on that date in 2007 in a home invasion at Allam’s Edward Gay apartment on the edge of LSU’s campus.

“It was probably the worst birthday of my life,” said Dhar, 34.

The fallen pair were remembered Thursday by friends and colleagues at the dedication of the Komma and Allam Remembrance Garden at the International Cultural Center on Dalrymple Drive on the five-year anniversary of the shooting.

Allam, 33, was a chemistry student from Hyderabad, India, and Komma, 31, was a biology student from Kurnool, India.

Maureen Hewitt, the cultural center’s director, said international students floated the idea of a remembrance garden in April 2008. Construction began around June 2011, and workers this fall placed a metal globe atop the base of a fountain in the garden.

Hewitt said she would like to add benches around the fountain and hopes to have those in place early next year

Musicians Kimberly Houser on the sitar and Michael Hidalgo on the tabla represented the Baton Rouge Bengali Association with Indian music inside the International Cultural Center before the ceremony.

Mayor-President Kip Holden, who spoke at the ceremony, proclaimed Thursday “Komma and Allam Remembrance Garden Day.” He urged people to remember the slain students every day, not just on the anniversary of their deaths.

“We can have the ceremony today and walk away and not remember their contributions,” Holden said. “Or we can continue to eradicate those things that bring us here for a sad occasion on one part, but a joyful occasion on the other part because we have not and will not forget those students.”

Vamsi Boyapati, 34, and a close friend of both Komma and Allam, closed the ceremony by reading a poem titled “Cosmic Consciousness” by the writer Sri Aurobindo.

In an interview after the ceremony, Boyapati said Komma and Allam were supposed to meet him at his apartment later on the same evening they were killed, once Boyapati finished up at the biochemistry lab.

A friend who lived in Edward Gay Apartments called Boyapati and told him about the shooting while he was still at the lab.

Boyapati said he was overcome with grief, to the point that, “I was blind for the next 10 days.”

He added, “Nothing like this should happen.”

Boyapati said Allam loved to travel, and Komma was very passionate about his research.

Sona Chowdhury, who worked with Komma in the biology department, described him as “a very friendly person who was always smiling.” She said she did not know Allam.

Chowdhury said she was in India when the shootings occurred.

“I was in shock. We were all in shock,” Chowdhury said.

The bodies of Allam and Komma were cremated Dec. 24, 2007, in southern India.

LSU awarded honorary doctorates in chemistry for Allam and in biochemistry for Komma in 2008.

Two suspects, Casey Jermaine Gathers, 24, and Michael Jermaine Lewis, 23, both of Baton Rouge, were arrested on May 22, 2008, in Vermilion Parish and charged with two counts of second-degree murder in the death of the two students.

A third suspect, Devin Parker, 23, of Baton Rouge, pleaded guilty in June to armed robbery and accessory charges in the case and agreed to testify in any future legal proceedings. He has not been sentenced.

Gathers and Lewis are due back in court on Feb. 8 for motions hearings, District Attorney Hillar Moore III said in an email.