May. 20, 2003 06:09 PM
A truck driver seriously wounded in a shooting was apparently targeted because of his religious faith, police said Tuesday.
Avtar Singh, 52, an Indian immigrant, had parked his 18-wheeler late Monday in north Phoenix and called his son to pick him up from a few blocks away. While he was waiting, at least two young white men pulled up in a small red pickup truck and started yelling, Singh said at a Phoenix hospital Tuesday.
"I hear that voice: 'Go back to where you belong to.' And at the same time I heard the shot," Singh said.
The men opened fire, wounding Singh in the lower abdomen and upper thigh. He was not robbed and nothing was taken from the truck, said Phoenix police Detective Tony Morales.
The shooting is being investigated as a hate crime by local and federal authorities. Investigators were still looking for suspects Tuesday.
Singh, a Phoenix resident, is Sikh and wears a turban and untrimmed beard as part of his faith.
Singh's son, Hardeep Singh, 23, an Arizona State University student found his father bleeding in the parking lot.
"He was in a lot of pain," Hardeep said.
The shooting of Singh comes less than two years after Balbir Singh Sodhi was shot to death, allegedly because he was Sikh. The gas station owner was killed just days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, allegedly because Frank Silva Roque of Mesa mistook him for a Muslim. Roque has been charged but not yet tried for the killing.
Guru Roop Kaur Khalsa, a spokeswoman for the Sikh community in Arizona, said many Arizonans have stood up for the Sikh community since Sodhi's killing but that Sikhs will need to continue to educate people.
"We feel sincerely that all faiths are good and everyone should have the right to practice their faith and should not be coerced or victimized
because of their faith," she said.
Khalsa noted that for Sikhs, the turban not only symbolizes their devotion to God but is also a symbol of equality of all people. "That
symbol is what people are reacting to."
Lakhwinder "Rana" Singh Sodhi, Balbir's brother, knows Singh and said this second shooting in Arizona is frustrating.
"They're nice people. I can't believe it's happening all over again," Rana said. "He came from his work and was going home. And he was shot, and because he had a turban and a beard?"
Rana said despite education efforts by the Sikh community, ignorance remains widespread.
"We get a little bit everyday," he said. "If someone just yells at you, it really hurts, but what do you do?"