September 26, 2001
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Sikh student shot at in US hate crime

Aseem Chhabra

On September 19, eight days after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Satpreet Singh was heading home to Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania from Frederick, Maryland.

It was supposed to be a routine 60 mile drive, but it turned into a nightmare for the 21 year old college student.

Shortly after setting out, around 11 am, in his red Lexus GS 300 on a two lane highway traveling north on Route 15, Singh noticed a blue Ford pickup truck tailgating him.

"He started coming real close, pulling back and them coming close again," said Singh, an information systems student at the Harrisburg Area Community College in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania who moonlights as a web hosting support technician for EarthLink.

Singh described the driver as a white male with a beard, sunglasses and a baseball hat. He also noticed a woman seated beside him.

"I did nothing to provoke him, so the only reason I can see for what happened is that I was wearing turban, and have a beard. I could see from my side-view mirror that he was showing me his finger," Singh recalls.

A short while later, Singh saw the man make a gun out of his hand, "like he was pretending to shoot me."

Singh at that point was also concerned about a 16-wheeler truck that was driving right ahead of him in the left lane.

In order to overtake the giant truck, Singh moved into the right lane, but by then a white car was ahead of him, and was travelling slower than the 16-wheeler.

"At that point the man in the pick-up truck, now on my left, pulled close right next to me, and started driving very close to my car. I slowed down, but he stayed with me. I tried to ignore him, when I glanced sideways one time I noticed that the window on the passenger side had come down and what seemed like a shot gun or a rifle was projecting out.

"That just freaked me out and I hit the gas and tried to drive as fast as possible," Singh says, reliving his terror of the time. "A couple of seconds later I heard a loud bang in the back. I am not sure if it was a bullet. It could have been blank. I didn't know what was going on. I heard a big bang and I assumed it was his gun.

"I was scared that he would hit my car and drive me off the highway," he said. "The thought that he would have a gun in broad daylight hadn't even occurred to me."

In his rear mirror, Singh saw the man slow down, then take a u-turn on the highway, heading back in the direction of Frederick. Singh called his elder brother on his cellphone and, after eventually reaching home, contacted the Frederick County Sheriff's office, and reported the incident as a hate crime.

"At this point we are trying to substantiate the gentleman's claims," said Lt. John Williams, a patrol commander at the sheriff's office. "Unfortunately, there is no physical evidence or witnesses to substantiate that those events actually occurred."

Williams added that in response to Singh's complaint, the sheriff's officer combed the area for physical evidence, but without success.

"The matter is still open and certainly, if additional information becomes available, that would be our priority," Williams said. "But right now, to be quite honest, it is on the back burner."

Singh regretted that he had not been able to look more closely at the driver or the truck.

"I was so shaken up, I just wanted to get home," he said. "I couldn't get the license plate. That would have been a big help."

The incident has made Singh more cautious, but he maintains that he is not going to run scared and stay indoors.

"I would rather go out and continue with my life," he said. "But I am just little more careful. I just want everyone to know that we were also hurt by the terrorist attacks -- but we are not the enemy. It is hard when our own countrymen start shooting at us."

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