On the afternoon of March 4, 2011, Sikh grandfathers Surinder Singh and his friend Gurmej Atwal were taking a break from their daily walk along East Stockton Boulevard when they were shot. Singh, 67, died at the scene, while Atwal, 78, succumbed to his wounds six weeks later.
The case, which was investigated as a possible hate crime by the U.S. Department of Justice, drew national attention. The victims’ families and others believed that the two men were targeted by a gunman who saw them as Muslim because they wore thick beards and turbans.
“It’s this one unsolved homicide left in the city of Elk Grove,” said Detective Kevin Papineau, who has worked the case from the beginning.
But Monday, he was hopeful that a re-enactment of the crime that was being filmed by a local production company, Jackson Inc., may breathe new life into the case.
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“It’s one more opportunity for us to reach out to the community that we haven’t touched before,” he said. “It can be tremendously helpful if it gets us that one tip that we are looking for.”
Jackson Inc. is the creation of two brothers, Cory Jackson, 43, and Craig Jackson, 40, both of Sacramento. The company is working on a half-hour show similar to “America’s Most Wanted” that would air on Sacramento-area broadcast channels and focus on local unsolved crimes.
“There are a lot of cases that need attention like this,” said Cory Jackson, who also created the 916 Hollywood Initiative several years ago to promote film production in the Sacramento region. He said the company decided to showcase the deaths of Singh and Atwal for their first production because it was such a high-profile case.
Despite a reward of over $60,000, which was put together by different religious groups, including Muslims and Jews, the case remained unsolved. “We have gone back through over work we had done before and looked at old information,” Papineau said.
Monday, part of East Stockton Boulevard east of Highway 99 was blocked off so that filming could take place.
About halfway south on Stockton, a white pickup truck was parked in front of the spot where Singh and Atwal were shot. A small memorial, consisting of two white crosses chalked on the retaining wall and three candles, offers the only clues that a crime had occurred there.
“If you didn’t know where to look, you wouldn’t even know it’s there,” Papineau said.
On Monday, two amateur actors – the father and uncle of producer AJ Singh, 26, of Sacramento – were playing the parts of the murdered men.
Jagjit Singh, 56, portrayed Surinder Singh, who wore a black turban, black jacket and black pants on the day he was killed. Joginder Singh, 60, played Atwal. He had a tan dastur, or turban, and wore a white kurta, a loose tunic over pants. He also strapped on a kirpan, the ceremonial dagger carried by baptized Sikhs.
The two men were sitting on the retaining wall, about 3 feet apart, and were listening to Rusty Prevatt’s directions.
“The truck is passing, look up, look up, and pop, pop, pop,” said Prevatt, 40, with Franklin Films.
Jagjit Singh, who was sitting on the left, looked up, and then slowly tumbled forward onto the sidewalk, followed by Joginder Singh, who landed on his right side.
They did the scene several times before Chuck Turner, 40, a sergeant with Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department, fired blanks from a .40-caliber semi-automatic handgun as he sat inside the truck.
“That’s good – cut!” said Prevatt after the second go-round with the blank shots.
For another scene, everyone was asked to crouch down, so that no one’s head or torso could be seen above the retaining wall next to Highway 99. A second camera crew across the freeway was filming what a witness saw – a Ford F-150 pickup truck driving south on East Stockton Boulevard after the shooting.
The crew had filmed interviews with Atwal’s son and Papineau earlier, which need to be spliced in with the scenes shot Monday. Cory Jackson estimated that it will take about three weeks before everything is edited and ready for distribution.
His company is lining up local sponsors for the weekly program and talking to Channel 40 and Channel 10 about airing it.
Cory Jackson declined to give the name of the new program, saying only that it would be somewhat controversial.
“It will get people to watch,” he teased.
In the meantime, Elk Grove police hope that renewed interest in the Singh and Atwal case will lead to results.
“We hope that this would produce tips for us to jump start this case,” said Chris Trim, spokesman for Elk Grove police.