LYNNWOOD — When people walked into the gas station convenience store off Highway 99 and asked the man behind the counter how he was doing, he always gave the same answer.
“Good, good,” TejPal Singh would say with a smile. The man — often called Paul by customers and friends — showed up with that warm attitude seven days a week for the 21 years he worked at the Chevron on Highway 99 and 148th Street SW near Lynnwood.
Singh, 60, of Snohomish, was going about his routine opening shift duties at the station early Sunday morning, beginning what would be his last shift. A masked gunman walked into the store around 5:40 a.m. and shot Singh to death.
The suspect fled but his image was captured on surveillance video. He wore an orange-and-black baseball cap, a white mask, dark pants, a black puffy jacket and white slip-on sandals.
An investigation continued Wednesday to identify the suspect. Anyone with information was asked to call 911.
More than 200 people showed up for a vigil Wednesday evening in front of the Chevron to share memories of Singh.
One by one, dozens of them cried as they walked up to a long table in front of the store and set bouquets of flowers next to a framed photo of Singh. Family members held each other tight and recited in Punjabi a prayer to honor their loved one.
Rachael Buis, a good friend of Singh, attended the vigil. She said the Chevron felt empty without him when she walked in.
“It doesn’t feel right being in the store without Paul,” Buis said. “He had this bright smile, and you couldn’t help but gravitate towards him. He looked like somebody you’d known forever, even if you hadn’t. He just had a warm energy.”
Buis, 22, of Lynnwood, worked with Singh at the Chevron for about a year. After she no longer worked with Singh, Buis stayed in touch and would stop in multiple times every week to say hi. She was one of countless people who visited the gas station regularly just to see Singh, even if they weren’t buying anything.
“He was one of the most wonderful men I’ve met in my entire life,” Buis said. “He was loving and accepting of everyone, and he didn’t care about the color of their skin, or who they loved. His story needs to be spread.”
Singh immigrated from India to the United States in the 1980s. He got involved in the gas station business and, in 2000, started working at the Chevron when it first opened.
A man of Sikh faith, Singh spent many hours volunteering at the Gurudwara Sikh Centre of Seattle. He could often be found cooking meals at the Bothell Gurudwara.
Singh is survived by his wife, Jaswant Singh, and his three children, Harvir, Talvinder and Rajvir Singh.
Ravi Johal, 34, of Auburn, helped organize Wednesday’s vigil. Johal met Singh as a young boy, he said, and the man was practically family to him.
Friends from all around the Seattle metropolitan area drove for miles just to stop by to greet Singh and see his smile, Johal said. The Snohomish man was fluent in Punjabi and English, but he loved to learn other languages and could often be overheard speaking in Russian, Spanish and more.
“He reached a lot of people and touched a lot of hearts,” Johal said.
Richard Menyweather lives just down the street from the Chevron, he said, and seeing Singh always brightened his day when he stopped in to buy a morning cup of coffee or a cigar. If Menyweather was short a couple bucks, he said Singh gave him the items and said, “bring the rest of the money tomorrow.” The man taught Menyweather to appreciate things in life he never recognized before.
“I can’t tell you how many times I left here smiling. He always made my morning,” Menyweather said, “and I always carried that joy with me to other places. He had this way of making you feel good about yourself, and you would share that with other people who didn’t know you, and then they would smile too. His smile reached way beyond the walls of that Chevron.”
Ellen Dennis: 425-339-3486; email@example.com; Twitter: @reporterellen