September 15, 2001
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'What was he guilty of? That he looked like Osama bin Laden?'

Sukhjit Purewal in San Jose

The family of Balbir Singh Sodhi, who was gunned down in Mesa, Arizona, on Saturday, in what is believed to have been a hate crime committed in the wake of the terrorist attacks, asked Americans to unite as one.

"There are already long lists in New York," said Harjit Singh Sodhi, "we don't need to create any more names."

"Our request to the country is that people should not kill each other," said Sodhi. "Stand behind our president."

Singh's brother, Balbir, 49, was shot and killed in the parking lot of the family's Chevron gas station on Saturday by a man driving a pickup truck. The gunman, who has been identified as Frank Roque, then drove to a second gas station and then to a house owned by individuals reportedly of Middle Eastern descent, shooting repeatedly at both.

Roque, 42, was arrested following the shootings and has been charged with first-degree attempted murder in the latter shootings but has yet not been charged in Sodhi's murder, according to The Arizona Republic. Calls to the Mesa police were not returned on Sunday night. The Republic reported that the FBI has been notified about the incident.

"My brother was innocent," Harjit Sodhi told

"What was he guilty of -- that he looked like Osama bin Laden?"

Sodhi said he is pleased with the support the law enforcement community and the Maricopa County has displayed in the wake of his family's ordeal.

The Republic reported that gas station visitors described the late Sodhi as always having a 'kind word' and giving out free candy to children.

On Sunday night, as America mourned the thousands lost in the terrorist attacks, Balbir Sodhi's family mourned their own loss and tried to understand what happened to their world. Why a wife is without her husband and why children are without their father, his saddened brother said. Phone calls could be heard pouring in with words of sympathy.

"Our dress is Sikh, we are Sikh," said Harjit Sodhi, who has lived in the US for 18 years. "But our country is America -- we had our children here, we built our businesses here."

The funeral will wait until Balbir Sodhi's wife can get a US visa to come to the service. Sodhi left behind two daughters and one son, ages 22, 24 and 27.

Harjit Sodhi, 40, said people of Middle Eastern and South Asian origin had been feeling uncomfortable with the insults being hurled by customers at gas stations and by people in general after the attacks last Tuesday. People felt uncertain about their safety. Sodhi said Sikhs hoped the Phoenix gurdwara would help educate the public so that no danger would come to pass.

Balbir Sodhi moved to the US 12 years ago. He worked as a cab driver in San Francisco but felt unsafe doing so amid stories of cabbie murders, his brother explained. So he moved to Phoenix to be close to his brother and because he regarded it as a safe place. All three of Sodhi's brothers reside in the Phoenix area running businesses.

The family had opened the Chevron station about five months ago, Harjit Sodhi said. To try to keep costs down, family members including Balbir ran the station themselves.

On Saturday afternoon, shortly after 2 pm, landscapers had just finished their work in the parking lot and asked Balbir to come outside and inspect their work.

"He came out to look and a man fired three shots at him," said Harjit Sodhi. The landscapers were not hurt.

The Attack on America: The Complete Coverage

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