Wracked by anger and fear, leaders of Northern California's 35,000-member Sikh community announced a $30,000 reward Monday for information leading to the arrest of the gunman who shot two elderly friends on their afternoon stroll through Elk Grove last week.
Surinder Singh, 67, died Friday on East Stockton Boulevard from a shot to the upper torso, while Gurmej Atwal, 78, remained in critical but stable condition in intensive care from two bullets to the chest. He still cannot talk, but is nodding yes or no to questions, said his son, Kamaljit Atwal.
Elk Grove Police Capt. Bryan Noblett said witnesses described a 1999 to 2003 beige or tan Ford F-150 pickup truck in the area of the shooting.
Anyone who has seen or heard anything that might pertain to the case should call Crime Alert at (916) 443-4357 or the Elk Grove Police Department at (916) 714-5115.
A motive has not been established. The shooting is being investigated with the help of the FBI as a possible hate crime, said Elk Grove Police spokesman Christopher Trim. "There is no evidence that would indicate a hate crime, but neither is there any evidence to eliminate that possibility," he said.
The victims' families and others fear Singh and Atwal were targeted because they like other orthodox Sikh men were wearing turbans, which some Americans mistakenly think represent Taliban and Muslim extremists.
"This is a rough year for Sikhs. When anything happens in the Middle East, Sikhs are targeted," said Darshan Singh Mundy, a Sikh civil rights leader who attended a news conference with about 100 community leaders at the West Sacramento gurdwara, or Sikh temple.
"About 99.9 percent of those wearing turbans in America are Sikhs, but we have nothing to do with 9/11. There are Sikhs in the U.S. Army, and two Sikh women are pilots of F-16s in the Air Force," he said.
The Sikh turban, or dastar, is a central part of Sikh identity worn to cover the kesh (uncut hair), which is viewed as a symbol of God's perfection.
Sikhism, founded in 1469 in Punjab, India, is a monotheistic faith based on moral lives, hard work, charity and the belief that all people have the right to follow their own path to God without condemnation or coercion from others, according to the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund.
Bhajan Singh Binder, general secretary of the American Gurdwara Parabandkh Committee of close to 80 temples, said Friday's shooting "no way reflects America."
A member of any race or religion Jewish, Christian, Muslim, "beard or not, turban or not" should be free to walk their neighborhoods in peace, he said.
Sarfraz Anwar, president of Sacramento's Muslim Mosque Association, cited chapter 5 of the Quran: "The killing of an innocent man is a killing of all humanity."
On Sunday, the Sacramento Valley chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations offered a $5,000 reward for tips in the case.
Elk Grove Mayor Steve Detrick said the city has no history of hate crimes or racial epithets against the roughly 5,000 Sikhs living there.
"This would be the very first one to my knowledge," he said. "I'm extremely disappointed and disgusted by this cowardly, senseless act. These were neighbors of mine; I used to see them on a regular basis."
Businessman Lakhvinder Singh, 62, said he's lived in Elk Grove since 1992 and never felt any discrimination. "It was the safest place in the county we have four gurdwaras."
But news of the shootings has spread to Sikh communities as far away as Punjab, where most Sikh immigrants come from.
Many Sikhs, often seen walking through area parks and neighborhoods, "are scared to go for walks," Mundy said, especially elderly Sikhs who don't speak English. "Going for a walk is the only thing they do. They're asking, 'What are we going to do now?' "
Gurmej Atwal, who worked for the state revenue department in India, was "a walking man he'd walk 5-6 miles a day," said his son Kamaljit Atwal. "That's why he's able to handle this so far. We hope he'll be able to talk in a few days."
Navi Kaur, the tearful granddaughter of slain Sikh retiree Surinder Singh, said her grandfather a truck driver and corn farmer in India "was a peaceful man who adopted this country as his own. How can anyone shoot a man who posed no harm to anyone?"
Kaur, 20, said "our grandfather wore his turban proudly. Our community will continue to wear their turbans proudly . It is not acceptable to target anyone based on their appearance, religion or color of their skin."