Gurcharn Gill, a Sikh American convenience store clerk, working at the Shields Express Market in Fresno, Calif., was stabbed to death on the afternoon of New Year’s day. Lt. Burke Farrah of the Fresno Police Department told the media that Gurcharn Gill, 68, was found by a customer who called 911. Police arrived on the scene, along with emergency medical personnel, and attempted to revive Gill via CPR, but were unsuccessful. Gill was pronounced dead at the scene.
Farrah said police are investigating the events that led up to the fatal stabbing. Gill’s body showed signs of trauma, according to the lieutenant, who said he could not release other details about the injuries Gill may have suffered, as such details are crucial to the investigation.
Police have not yet determined whether the stabbing was a hate crime, said Farrah, adding: “A hate crime is certainly one of the motives we’re considering.” He noted that Gill was not dressed in traditional Indian clothing, such as a kurta, and did not sport a turban or beard.
Police are also investigating the possibility of a robbery or other altercation. “I have a team of dedicated investigators who are working around the clock to solve this case,” stated Farrah. “This is on the front burner for us.” Footage from a surveillance camera inside the store is being examined for clues about the suspect or suspects.
The fatal attack on Gill occurred just seven days after another elderly Sikh man – Amrik Singh Bal – was brutally beaten as he waited for his ride to work in Fresno’s orchards.
Bal – who wears a religiously-mandated turban and beard – was sitting down and waiting when the male suspects pulled up near him and started to curse.
Bal then attempted to cross the street to avoid confrontation, according to police, but the suspects – who have not yet been captured – backed up their car and struck Bal with the rear bumper. They then got out of the car and began to beat the elderly man, striking him in the face and upper body.
Bal was taken to the Community Medical Regional Center in Fresno and treated for a broken collarbone as well as lacerations on his face, head and neck. The attack is being investigated as a hate crime, according to Fresno police. (See I-W, Dec. 29, 2015, http://bit.ly/1NP58iU)
Addressing both incidents, Farrah said the Fresno Sikh community is experiencing a heightened sense of danger. Police are working to resolve both cases as quickly as possible he noted, adding: “Fear is a horrible thing. We don’t want people to live in fear.”
The FBI and the Department of Justice are also investigating both incidents. A reward may be set up through the Fresno Police Department’s Crimestoppers Unit for information leading to the arrest of Gill’s killer. Members of the Sikh American community in Fresno held a town hall meeting last week after Bal was attacked to help the public understand Sikh culture and the role the community has played in the development of Central California’s agrarian roots.
Sikh American community activist Iqbal ‘Ike’ Grewal, a member of the Sikh Council of Central California, told the media that the attacks have “definitely caused some anxiety.” Community leaders are advising Sikh residents to be extremely cautious about their surroundings and not to travel alone, especially at night.
Grewal said the fatal stabbing of Gill was not a robbery attempt and stated that the killing of the store clerk must be investigated as a hate crime. He is attempting to reach out to Gill’s family to gain more information about the slain man.