More than 500 mourners from across the nation honored the life of Surinder Singh on Saturday and prayed that the 65-year-old Sikh American grandfather didn't die in vain.
At a long service at the North Sacramento Funeral Home, Sikhs, Muslims, Christians and others decried the death of Singh, who was shot to death on a Friday afternoon stroll through Elk Grove.
Singh's friend Gurmej Atwal, 78, was critically wounded in the March 4 attack. Both men were wearing dastars turbans representing their spirituality.
Singh was clad in a white turban as his body lay in an open casket Saturday before it was cremated.
"We consider the turban a gift from God," said Sikh civil rights leader Darshan Singh Mundy, who announced that a reward for information leading to the shooter's arrest and conviction has reached $43,700 and could soon top $50,000 with contributions from Northern California's gurdwaras, or Sikh temples.
There is no hard evidence that the shootings are a hate crime, but many Sikhs believe the men were targeted by someone who misidentified them as radical Muslims.
"I said after 9/11 our lifestyle will change we've lost seven Sikhs since then and the eighth is fighting for his life," Mundy told the mourners.
Atwal is in critical condition, said his son Kamaljit Atwal.
A Sikh priest conducted a 90-minute prayer from the Sri Guru Granth Sahib, the 1,430-page Sikh holy book, "requesting that God keep his soul in heaven all the time," said Surinder Singh's son Harvinder Singh.
The prayer which many Sikhs perform several times a day at home declares you should not hate anyone because God loves all people, and all people are the same.
"This is a prayer of peace," explained Singh's granddaughter Navi Kaur. "Rest in peace, Grandpa."
A retired corn and beet farmer from Punjab, Singh was beloved both here and in his home town of Pandori Ganga Singh, where he sponsored four soccer teams.
"He came here in 2005 and loved this country; he thought it was a healthy country," said family friend Balwinder Singh. "He walked every day, first in the morning and then again after 3 o'clock afternoon tea."
After he suffered a heart attack, his family watched him closely, and his wife, Amurjit Kaur, walked with him almost every day.
"Now nobody walks after that day," his son said. "Even whites, blacks and Chinese are scared to walk now. My dad had no enemies."
A broad spectrum of speakers called for inter-ethnic solidarity to blunt the intolerance and ignorance that may have led to Singh's death.
Floyd Mori, national director of the Japanese American Citizens League, came from Washington, D.C., to support Sikh Americans.
"About 165 years ago, Mormons were tarred, feathered, hung and killed because people didn't understand them," Mori said. "And 65 years ago 120,000 Japanese Americans were uprooted from their homes, called enemy aliens and thrown into prison camps."
The only thing the Mormons, Japanese Americans and Sikhs were guilty of, Mori said, "is being different."
Irfan Haq, president of the Sacramento Council of Sacramento Valley Islamic Organizations, called Sikhs "hardworking, honest, wonderful people."
Sikh and Muslim Americans "may look different but we feel pain and grief like everybody else, and celebrate our friends and family like everybody else," Haq said.
Elk Grove Mayor Steve Detrick, who also attended the funeral, assured Singh's granddaughter that some good can come of his death.
"He brought our community together," Detrick said. "Our community has been fractured, but I believe it will heal and be stronger. There are over 75 languages spoken in our schools. That diversity is the beauty of our town."
At 11 a.m. today, U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner, California Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and other public officials will address the Sacramento Sikh Temple, 2301 Evergreen Ave., West Sacramento.
Anyone with information that might bear on the shooting of Surinder Singh and Gurmej Atwal as they walked March 4 along East Stockton Boulevard in Elk Grove should call Crime Alert at (916) 443-4357 or the Elk Grove Police Department at (916) 714-5115.