With a wall’s worth of academic degrees from top universities and a new wife in his chosen country, Mainak Sarkar entered midlife with a foundation of success. Then his life began to unravel.
Last week he snapped and, for reasons that investigators are still trying to understand, gunned down those he once held close.
Authorities say Sarkar, who was once enrolled at the University of Texas at Arlington, killed his estranged wife in a Minneapolis suburb and drove across half the country to Los Angeles and fatally shot the UCLA professor who had helped him earn an engineering Ph.D.
As panic began to spread on the bustling University of California, Los Angeles, campus, he turned the gun on himself.
He left behind devastated families, a shaken university community, a “kill list” that included the name of a second UCLA professor he believed had wronged him — and many unanswered questions.
Chief among them is what led him to violence. Police have not detailed when they believe Sarkar shot Ashley Hasti after apparently breaking into the Minnesota home she shared with her father; whether he committed other crimes en route to California; or why he felt wronged by another professor on the “kill list” who was not on campus when Sarkar arrived with two semiautomatic pistols.
What soon became clear was that Sarkar believed that the professor he killed, William Klug, had stolen code from him. In March, Sarkar posted online that Klug — the man he had praised in his 2013 dissertation as a mentor – had made him “really sick.”
Colleagues said that only a deranged person could conclude that someone of Klug’s character would defraud a student.
“Apparently he’s harbored those feelings over the past three years since his graduation” but investigators hadn’t found any “trigger event” that would explain why he decided to kill now, Los Angeles police Capt. William Hayes said.
He did say prescription medication, possibly Valium or a similar sedative, was found in the St. Paul, Minn., apartment where Sarkar had lived.
Even before his death, Klug had been hailed as a caring father and gifted educator who inspired his students. Hundreds gathered to honor him at on-campus vigils.
Klug’s outgoing personality contrasted with Sarkar’s introversion.
Where Klug smiles in pictures, Sarkar rarely does.
“He was a little bit of a loner,” said Ajit Mal, an engineering professor who taught Sarkar in one of his earliest classes at UCLA, where he enrolled in 2006.
As Klug’s career and family blossomed in his native Southern California, Sarkar struggled to finish his studies.
While at UCLA, Sarkar was “a nice guy going through the same anxieties and struggles as anyone else,” recalled Jeff Eldredge, a mechanical and aerospace engineering professor who was a close friend of Klug’s and helped review and later approved Sarkar’s dissertation.
Eldredge called Klug an exceptional person and teacher who had a gentle way giving feedback to students. Even so, Sarkar “didn’t take criticism well” when he submitted a dissertation that advisers returned, requesting significant revisions.
Sarkar submitted a new document that Eldredge said was barely sufficient for Klug to urge colleagues to grant him a Ph.D. in 2013.
By then, Sarkar and Hasti had been married two years.
Hasti’s grandmother Jean Johnson said Sarkar was reserved and polite but couldn’t handle Hasti teasing him.
Sarkar came to the U.S. from India on a student visa in 2001 after earning a degree in aerospace engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology at Kharagpur.
In India, former classmates and teachers described a solid student who gave no indication of aggression.
Sarkar was enrolled at UTA from fall 2001 through spring 2003, according to a report in The Shorthorn, UTA’s student newspaper.
UTA spokeswoman Kristin Sullivan told The Shorthorn that Sargar was enrolled as an aerospace engineering graduate student but did not complete a degree or certificate while there.
He attended Stanford University from 2003 until 2005, when he received a master’s in aeronautical and astronautical engineering, according to the university.
He then moved to UCLA.
Staff writer John Gravois contributed to this report.