A suspect was arrested May 11 for fatally stabbing Jagjeet Singh, an Indian American store clerk in Modesto, Calif., over the purchase of cigarettes.
The Modesto Police Department arrested 23-year-old Lester Portillo at his home. He was taken to Stanislaus County Jail, where he is currently being held without bail, on a single charge of murder. Portillo had not been arraigned as of May 12.
On the night of May 4, Portillo entered the Hatch Food and Gas convenience store as clerk Jagjeet Singh was closing up. According to police reports, Portillo approached Singh at the register and asked to purchase a packet of cigarettes. Singh asked for identification – as is required by California law for anyone believed to be under 21 – which Portillo did not provide.
The suspect allegedly then got into a verbal altercation with Singh, and left the store. He returned later and allegedly fatally stabbed Singh and then fled the scene.
Modesto Police initially determined there were two suspects involved in the incident and released four surveillance videos, which depicted two differently-dressed men.
The first suspect was described as a Hispanic male adult wearing a black and white beanie cap, black t-shirt, white zip-up sweater, gray pants and black shoes. The second suspect, captured in a surveillance camera image inside the store, depicts a tall, broadly-built Hispanic man wearing brown cargo shorts and a white sleeveless t-shirt.
Heather Graves, a spokeswoman for the Modesto Police Department, told India-West: “As the detectives continued digging deeper in their investigation yesterday, it was discovered that the suspect was the same man in both photos.”
Portillo changed clothes before he came back to the store to stab Singh, police said.
Sources close to the incident told India-West that the stabbing was a gang initiation ritual. But Graves said there was no evidence to corroborate gang involvement in the murder.
According to police reports, the Modesto Police Department received a call at 11:50 p.m. May 4 from the Hatch Food and Gas convenience store. The caller reported to 911 that the store clerk, Jagjeet Singh, was possibly having a seizure. Medical aid dispatched to the scene determined that Singh was not having a seizure, and had been stabbed multiple times.
Singh, 32, was rushed to a local hospital where he succumbed to his injuries, according to police. He is survived by his wife, Kuljeet Kaur, and two sons, Ishmeet Singh, 9, and Dilpreet Singh, 7, who reside in Kapurthala, Punjab. Singh had three siblings: two younger sisters and an elder brother settled in France, according to the Hindustan Times. He had moved to the U.S. just 18 months earlier, and was living with his sister and brother-in-law in Modesto.
Singh’s niece, Navjeet Kaur, has created a Fundly.com site, http://bit.ly/2qUNIP0, to honor her uncle and to raise funds to support his widow and their two young children. The site has raised more than $5,600.