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Community turns up in strength at Singh family's funeral

By Ritu Jha
June 21, 2012 13:49 IST
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Hundreds of people from the Sikh and Hindu communities, including family members and friends, attended a funeral service for Major Avtar Singh and family on Wednesday, June 20, in Fresno, California.

On June 9, Major Avtar Singh, 47, shot his three children and wife before turning the gun on himself. The second son, Aryan, survived but last Thursday as his condition worsened he was taken off life support. 

The Singh family's funeral was attended by about 300 people who trickled into the Reade & Sons funeral home in Fresno to pay tribute to the major, his wife and children. "I have never seen five bodies from one family at a funeral service," Rajbir Singh Pannu, president of the Sikh Center of Pacific Coast, in Selma, Fresno, told rediff.com. He added that the whole of Selma was in mourning. "People are sad. Nothing like this has ever happened earlier, especially the killing of children," said Pannu. 

He said the community and gurudwara took on the responsibility for the funeral which was paid for by the state of California.

Amrik Singh Virk, former temple secretary at the Sikh Center of Pacific Coast in Selma, told rediff.com that they were planning to set up a scholarship for students that would be named after Avtar Singh's sons Kanwarpal 'Chris' Singh and Kanwaljit 'Aryan' Singh  -- both were students of Selma high school and part of the school's marine corps junior ROTC battalion. (The Reserve Officers' Training Corps is a college-based programme for training commissioned officers of the United States armed forces) 

Pannu said the community still could not believe that Avtar Singh killed his family, and think that someone else was behind the incident. "He was a nice man, and never hit his children," Singh's mother-in-law told Pannu. 

Tears rolled down many faces when retired colonel Hardev Singh Gill made a condolence speech at the funeral home, and spoke about the life of an army officer. He said many army officers face mental injuries which stay with them all their life. Post-traumatic stress disorder can occur following a military combat, natural disasters, or terror incidents, was common and could lead to any incident. "Wars or killing of enemies stays in your mind permanently," said Gill, who has fought in the Indo-Pakistan wars of 1965 and 1971.

"An army officer does not kill anybody, they merely perform their task," Gill told rediff.com. Though he had never met Avtar Singh, he said he had come to pay tribute to an army officer. "Being an army man I can understand his situation."

Narinder Kaur Sunny, who considered Avtar Singh like a brother, told rediff.com, "I could not believe it was Avtar Singh's body, he looked so different," and added, "I am pleased to see the support and respect the community has shown to the family."

Major Avtar Singh's mother-in-law was present at the funeral along with her daughters from Canada and the United Kingdom. However, there was no one from Avtar Singh's family. 

Major Singh ran a truck company, Jay truck Line, named after his youngest child Jay Singh. Rama Dawar, a community activist and Fresno planning commissioner, said the coroner's office was looking into the property issues.

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Ritu Jha in Fresno, California
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