Thousands honor man slain in apparent hate crime

Associated Press

PHOENIX — Nearly 3,000 people gathered Saturday to remember Balbir Singh Sodhi, an Indian immigrant killed in what police say was a hate crime that followed the terrorist attacks.

They were Sikh, Jew, Christian, Muslim and more, some with veils or turbans, others in suits and ties. Many never knew Sodhi, but they offered prayers, songs, tears and sympathy anyway.

"My father had a lot of friends, but no enemies. The word hatred was not in his vocabulary at all, but he ended up falling from the bullet of hate," said Sodhi’s son, Sukhwinder Singh. "My family doesn’t want any innocent people hurt."

Sodhi, who like many male Sikhs had long facial hair and wore a turban, was killed during a Sept. 15 shooting spree that authorities said targeted the victims because of their race.

His death touched off protests in India and a call to President Bush by India’s prime minister.

Authorities called the shooting a hate crime, but haven’t said whether it was linked to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"On Sept. 11, America was attacked from abroad," Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley said during the nearly two-hour service at the Phoenix Civic Plaza. "However, with the murder of Mr. Sodhi, we have now been attacked from within."

Authorities said Frank Silva Roque shot Sodhi outside his gas station in suburban Mesa.

Police reports say Roque then drove 10 miles to a second gas station, fired several shots through a window at a Lebanese-American clerk, and then fired shots into the home of a family of Afghani descent. No one was injured in the last two shootings.

Roque, 42, an aircraft mechanic at Boeing, is charged with first-degree murder, four counts of attempted murder and three counts of drive-by shooting. He is being held in lieu of $1 million bail.

Police said Roque told them he was a patriot when he was arrested. He has declined all media interviews.

Arizona Attorney General Janet Napolitano said Sodhi’s name belongs among the list of victims from the terrorist attacks. "How dare anyone claim it is out of patriotism to let the terrorists add another name to their death toll," she said.

Copyright ©2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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