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Second Sikh shooting victim in Sacramento suburb has died [updated]

April 15, 2011 |  5:16 pm

Ljd2ynnc The second of two Sikh men gunned down on their afternoon walk in Elk Grove, Calif., last month has died, members of the Sacramento-area Sikh community said Friday.

Gurmej Atwal, 78, died about 2 p.m. Friday, said Darshan Mundy, a spokesman for the Sacramento Sikh Temple.

“It’s so sad, so sad,” said Mundy, who helped organize an American Sikh Day on the steps of the Capitol on Wednesday at the urging of state Sen. Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento).

Atwal and Surinder Singh, 65, were strolling near their Elk Grove homes when they were shot, police said. Singh died at the scene. No arrests have been made and no motive has been established.

The victims were not robbed and had no enemies, family members say. However, they wore traditional Sikh turbans and thick beards, leading police and community leaders to speculate that the attack was a hate crime.

The assault on Singh and Atwal came just months after a Sikh cabdriver was attacked in West Sacramento by two men who yelled anti-Muslim slurs. The suspects in that case have been arrested and charged.

In the last six weeks, lawmakers and members of many faiths have spoken loudly against the shooting of Atwal and Singh, and contributed to a reward fund that has reached $50,000. About 1,000 Sikhs joined Sacramento lawmakers and interfaith leaders Wednesday at the Capitol to celebrate California's Sikhs community and to educate the public about their faith.

Atwal came to California about a decade ago to live with his son, daughter-in-law and three grandchildren, his son, Kamaljit Atwal, said last week. He kept in good health and walked as much as eight miles a day, earning him the family nickname “walking man.”

“It’s a horrible shock,” Sikh community leader Amar Shergill, who has acted as a spokesman for the families, said Friday of the death. “Although we were hoping he would overcome the injury, the doctors had told us that he was in danger. It’s important for all of us now to rely on our faith as a community and as families to make it through this difficult time.”

[Updated, 5:50 p.m.: "I am deeply saddened to hear that Gurmej Atwal has succumbed to his wounds. My prayers are with his family and the entire Sikh community," said Steinberg, the state senator. "His death compounds an already horrible crime which has outraged us all, and I know the Elk Grove police are working long hours to bring the unknown perpetraor or perpetrators to justice."                                 


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Photo: At the funeral home Sikh mourners attend the service of Surinder Singh. Singh, 65, was shot to death March 4 while on his afternoon stroll through Elk Grove with his friend Gurmej Atwal, 78, who also died. Both men wore Sikh turbans; law enforcement and Sikh community members fear the shooting was a hate crime. Credit: Bryan Patrick