The Norman Transcript

Nation/World

June 11, 2012

California town shocked by family murder-suicide

SELMA, Calif. — Residents of a small California agricultural town known as the “Raisin Capital of the World” mourned an Indian family killed in a murder-suicide, and also grappled Sunday with allegations that the man accused in the shooting was a former Indian army officer wanted for years for murder in his homeland.

News of Saturday’s murder-suicide boomeranged through the area’s closely-knit Indian community, which numbers 15,500 in Fresno County, including about 750 in Selma, a town of 23,000 surrounded by vineyards and peach orchards. The majority of Indians in the area are Punjabi Sikhs, like the family.

Authorities have said the former officer, Avtar Singh, shot his wife and two children and gravely wounded a third child early Saturday before turning the gun on himself.

Investigators were still trying to determine a motive.

“Our community is completely shocked,” said Rajbir Singh Pannu, president of the town’s Sikh temple. “It’s a really bad misfortune, especially for the children who died. Anybody who takes somebody’s life, in our religion that’s cowardice.”

It was just more than a year ago that Singh was arrested after his wife said he had choked her.

That set off a process that prompted the Indian government to seek his extradition in the 1996 death of a prominent lawyer and human rights activist in Kashmir.

Singh bailed out of jail after last year’s arrest. It remained unclear Sunday why he was never extradited.

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