Major Avtar Singh, a 47-year-old fugitive and a former Indian Army officer, wanted in the killing of a lawyer in India, who on Saturday, June 9 killed his family members before turning the gun on himself was on a removal proceeding. Ritu Jha reports.
Avtar Singh was arrested by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations department for unlawful presence in the United States in July 2007, and subsequently placed in removal proceedings.
"At the time of his death, Singh was pending removal while the ongoing investigation into his case continued," said Lori K Haley, spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, western region, to Rediff.com.
Shortly after 6 am, the Selma police department received a 911 call from Singh, who said that he had just murdered four persons and was about to kill himself. He then disconnected the line.
Singh's immigration came in the picture when he was arrested on domestic violence charges in February last year.
"Singh had a pending international warrant for his arrest," said Lt Andreotti in his previous interview rediff.com. According to media reports, Singh was a major in the Indian Army in the 1990s, and fled the country after he was accused of killing Jaleel Andrabi, a human rights lawyer, in Srinagar in 1996.
Even though was aware of his situation, Singh opened a trucking company in the US -- Jay Truck Line -- which he had named after his youngest son and was doing pretty well according to his friends and close aides.
But for the past few months he sounded disturbed. "He had been getting threatening calls since March," Narinder Kaur Sunny, a neighbour, told rediff.com.
Sunny, who considered Singh as her brother, said that he had told her a month ago, "If I have to go, I will take the entire family with me." When asked did she (Sunny) think Singh killed his family, she said, "Yes. He used to say he did not want to leave his wife and children behind to struggle."
"I feel sad why he killed his family," said Sunny. "I thought he was talking about going back to India," said Sunny. Just days before the incident, Singh's wife even showed Sunny her closet and told her that she could take the clothes.
"She used to say that she could leave the country any day. I never understood then what she was trying to say," said Sunny. He used to say that the charges against him were false," said Sunny.
Singh had three sons -- Chris (Kawarjit), 17, Aryan (Kunal), 15, and Jay, 3. Aryan is still in critical condition and is admitted to the community hospital in Fresno.
"If he survives, I will adopt him," said Sunny. "I won't be able to give him the luxuries he is used to, but I will love him like my own son."
According to another friend of Singh and also his customer, Sudarshan Sharma, Fresno told rediff.com, "It looks like organised crime. Some people used to call him and follow him." He said Singh owned five trucks, and though he may have had financial problems, they couldn't have been bad enough to kill his family.
"I do not believe he killed his family and himself. He did buy a gun for his protection, and I asked him to get a license," Sharma said.
Rama Dawar, community activist and Fresno planning commissioner, said according to law, if someone feels a person is a threat to the society, it's his responsibility to report that person to the authorities.
"But I never felt he was a threat," said Dawar. He added that even his colleague, who is a counselor on domestic violence didn't feel there was any threat.
Dawar said that Singh came to him at his office early this year and handed him some personal documents and talked about his problems. Dawar denied to divulge what they talked about, since an investigation is on, but added, "he was a knowledgeable person, and was of calm demenour,"
Dawar said Singh, was honored four times by the President of India for his bravery and he had fought against terrorism in Assam and Kashmir. On, Sunday the community arranged a candlelight vigil for him and for his family.
He said that the Selma Gurdawara would be offering their services to provide all the expenses for funeral.
Zahid Rafiq, a freelance reporter and a student who had contacted Singh for an interview told rediff.com, "He said he would kill me if I approached him."