The Modesto Police Department said Tuesday it was investigating whether the death of a 32-year-old man in California last week may have been a hate crime.
Paramedics were called to Hatch Food and Gas on Thursday around 11:50 p.m. for a man having a seizure, according to a statement from the Modesto Police Department. After arriving, they determined that Jagjeet Singh had actually been stabbed, police said.
Singh was taken to a local hospital and died of his injuries, authorities said. No arrests had been made.
Heather Graves, a Modesto Police Department spokeswoman, told NBC News Tuesday that Singh and one of the suspects had had a confrontation inside the store.
“We have a couple of different witnesses giving some information but that’s still under investigation,” she said. “We just know that there were words exchanged between the two of them.”
Police said Singh was securing the business after closing when the suspect allegedly approached him.
The Modesto Bee, a local newspaper, reported that Singh’s refusal to sell loose cigarettes may have sparked the exchange. Graves said police had heard cigarettes may have played a role in the alleged confrontation.
Asked whether the stabbing may have been a hate crime, Graves said, “That is a possibility and we are investigating that possibility as well.”
Several calls placed to Hatch Food and Gas Tuesday afternoon seeking comment rang unanswered.
Modesto is about 92 miles east of San Francisco.
The Sikh Coalition, a nonprofit civil rights group, called on police to investigate bias as a possible motive for Singh’s slaying.
"Our prayers continue to be with the family and community in Modesto, California,” Sikh Coalition interim managing director of programs Rajdeep Singh told NBC News in an email Tuesday.
According to a crowdfunding page set up for Jagjeet Singh's family, he was married and had two sons ages 7 and 9. He arrived in the United States two years ago and was a cheerful and lively person, the posting said. Singh’s wife and children reportedly live in India, according to the Modesto Bee, which quoted the store manager.
Singh’s death follows a string of criminal incidents across the country with victims who are of South Asian descent.
The New York Police Department (NYPD) Hate Crime Task Force was investigating the April 16 assault of a Sikh taxi driver whose turban had been ripped from his head.
Four passengers in the cab allegedly yelled slurs at the driver, who was also punched, and accused him of taking them to the wrong location. No arrests were made.
In March, a Florida man was arrested on arson charges after allegedly trying to burn down a convenience store whose owners are of Indian descent because he wanted to "run the Arabs out of our country."
Earlier that same month, the FBI said it was investigating the shooting of a Sikh man in a Seattle suburb in what local police described as a possible hate crime. The man was struck in the arm and was recovering in a private hospital. No arrests were made.
And in February, police in Kansas arrested a man on charges of fatally shooting one Indian man and wounding another at a bar in the Kansas City metropolitan area.
Adam Purinton allegedly told the men “get out of my country” before opening fire. A patron who confronted Purinton was also shot and injured. While Kansas doesn’t have a hate crime statute, the FBI was investigating the shooting as a hate crime.