A heartbroken Texas community is mourning the loss of one of their beloved trailblazing police officers after he was shot and killed in what officials are calling an ambush.
Harris County Sheriff’s Deputy Sandeep Dhaliwal, who gained national attention in 2015 as the first law enforcement officer in the state of Texas to wear a turban on duty in keeping with his Sikh faith, was performing a routine traffic stop on Friday when he was shot from behind and killed, local officials said.
During a press conference shortly after the fatal incident, Harris County Sheriff’s Office Major Mike Lee said that he reviewed the dashboard camera footage and nothing seemed suspicious when Dhaliwal stopped the suspect around 12:30 p.m.
“It looked to be just conversational,” Lee said, adding that Dhaliwal was speaking to the suspect with the driver’s door open. “There was no combat, no arguing. It looked like a routine traffic stop that we conduct every day.”
After their conversation, Lee said Dhaliwal closed the driver’s door and headed towards his patrol car but within seconds, was “ambushed” by the suspect, who came running at him with a gun and fired two shots from behind.
A woman who was doing yard work nearby heard the commotion and witnessed the alleged suspect flee the scene. She immediately tended to Dhaliwal and called 911, waiting with him until first responders arrived at the scene.
Lee said Dhaliwal was rushed to the hospital via life flight but sadly succumbed to his injuries shortly after.
“There are no words to convey our sadness. Please keep his family and our agency in your prayers,” he wrote on Twitter in the devastating announcement.
Meanwhile, a number of local officers circulated the suspect’s photo based on the dashboard camera footage and were allegedly able to find him inside a nearby business less than a mile away.
“A deputy observed that he looked a little nervous and put him in custody, and that did turn out to be our shooter,” Lee stated, adding that the weapon was recovered in the same parking lot of the nearby business.
Officers later identified the suspect as Robert Solis, 47, and charged him with capital murder. An unnamed female who was a passenger in the getaway vehicle was also taken into custody, Lee said.
According to Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, Solis had an active parole violation warrant for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon dating back to January 2017.
At this time, it is unclear what caused Solis to allegedly shoot Dhaliwal in the back of the head.
An attorney for Solis could not immediately be located by PEOPLE.
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Following the news, the Texas community expressed an outpouring of love and support for the deputy, who Gonzalez referred to as “a wonderful father, husband, son brother, friend, and last but not least, a Texas Peace Officer.”
“He’s an incredible loss not only to our @HCSOTexas family but to the entire community,” Gonzalez added of the father of three. “Deputy Dhaliwal was LOVED by this community… [and] an extraordinary individual.”
Some people shared their fondest memories of the deputy, posting videos and photos alongside him.
Next to a video of Dhaliwal letting a young boy who was deaf “arrest” him, Lee wrote, “This video captures the essence of who Deputy Dhaliwal was. He touched countless of lives along the way. A legacy that will never be forgotten. We will aspire to be as good as he was.”
A Harris County resident sent us a video of fallen Deputy Sandeep Dhaliwal.
“He laughed and joked with all of us, and left a bright impression on my son who is deaf,” she said.
Deputy Dhaliwal is an incredible loss not only to our HCSO family but to the entire community. pic.twitter.com/EbsdFeeWXO
— HCSOTexas (@HCSOTexas) September 28, 2019
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In a statement obtained by Fox 26 Houston, Gov. Greg Abbott said on behalf of himself and his wife, “Today, Cecilia and I join Texans in mourning the loss of the Harris County Sheriff’s deputy who was shot and killed in the line of duty.”
“It is with heavy hearts that we send our deepest sympathies to the deputy’s family, friends, and his brothers and sisters in law enforcement,” he continued. “This tragic loss is a grave reminder of the risks that our law enforcement officers face every single day.”
“I thank the officers who bravely responded to apprehend the suspect, and I assure you that the state of Texas is committed to bringing this killer to justice. Cecilia and I ask all Texans to join us in praying for the family and the entire Harris County Sheriff’s Department,” Abbott added.
Community-led candlelight vigil was held tonight in honor of @HCSO_D5Patrol Deputy Dhaliwal. Please continue to keep his family & his @HCSOTexas family in your thoughts & prayers. Deputy Dhaliwal was LOVED by this community. #HouNewspic.twitter.com/oD7M78RXxm
— Major Mike Lee (@HCSOPatrol) September 28, 2019
The Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund also spoke out about the tragedy in a statement on their website.
“Sandeep was a trailblazer for the Sikh American community. He served not just the Sikh community here in Houston with honor and dignity, but all of his community,” said SALDEF South East Regional Director Bobby Singh. “He did his job well and was respected by all. We will support his family through these difficult times.”
“This is a tragedy for the Greater Houston Area and the Sikh American community across the country,” added SALDEF Executive Director Kiran Kaur Gill. “Deputy Dhaliwal was a hero to the local community in Houston and an example to all Americans for his dedicated career as a law enforcement officer and his community service efforts out of uniform.”
An impromptu vigil was held for Dhaliwal on Friday, where citizens remembered him for making their community a better place, collecting supplies after Hurricane Harvey, and for bringing awareness to the Sikh faith.
The Copper Brook community also plans to hold their National Night Out event on Tuesday, where they will continue to pay tribute to the deputy who made such a large impact on the lives of others.