Sep. 18—TUPELO — Parmvir Singh rode a bicycle from his home on Spring Lake Drive in Tupelo each morning to the gas station where he worked.
Arriving at the store on the corner of Cliff Gookin Boulevard and South Thomas Street, he'd jokingly refer to the bike as his Lamborghini while chatting with customers.
On the morning of Sept. 11, just 14 months after arriving in the United States, Singh was killed during a robbery at the store.
Singh, 33, was described by his friend and relative, Gagan Singh, as a beautiful soul and great human being with lots of dreams.
"He came here just to get a better life," Gagan Singh said. "You know, that's why everybody comes to America, to do better."
"He came for the American dream," he added. "But his dream was taken away."
Hundreds gathered outside the gas station Saturday evening for a candlelight vigil where a memorial of flowers and signed cards were placed in front of a large photograph of Singh.
Community members cried and grieved together as Singh's friends lit the first candles, in turn passing the flame to others across the parking lot.
Justin James lives nearby and stopped to buy a cup of coffee from Singh every morning at the Chevron.
"He was always the guy who would wake me on up out of my sleep, say something that would wake me on up," James said. "The first thing he said when I came in the store, 'I got your coffee done, buddy!'"
Singh knew what regular customers wanted as soon as they walked through the door. When James got to the cash register to pay, he'd already have a pack of cigarettes there waiting for him.
Forsaking his regular routine, the Saturday evening vigil was the first time James returned to the store since the shooting six days prior.
"It was the way he'd greet you, man. Anytime you came to the store, anybody came to the store, he'd really make you smile," James said. "He might tell you a joke or two. He was a very cool guy. If you were short on change, he wasn't tripping. He'd let you go ahead."
Melissa Monteith, an employee of Room to Room Furniture down the street, stopped by the gas station two to three times per day — first with her kids on the way to school, again for a Monster energy drink on the way to work and another time in the afternoon.
She remembers Singh as having a great spirit and genuine love for life. When vendors would be stocking the shelves, he'd usher her past telling them "she's family."
"I just hope I have this much effect on people," Monteith said, looking around the crowd. "Somebody said 'He was just a gas station worker.' Well, look at what he did."
Steve Holland, president of Holland Funeral Directors, reminded the crowd they were there to mourn a loss and celebrate a life, adding everyone there had likely come in contact with him at some time or another at the store.
"We've got every kind of person here known to man," Holland said, glancing around the parking lot. "This is what I think the end of time is going to look like — all kinds of people together, perfectly, in brotherhood and sisterhood."
State Sen. Chad McMahan encouraged those in attendance to ask one another's names and to hold a stranger's hand.
"We're all neighbors in Mississippi, who choose to live in Mississippi," McMahan said. "We're all hurting. Parmvir was a good person, a really nice, decent person. He just wanted to work in this country, meet a wife and have a business. Don't we all have a right to go to work and come home safe no matter what you do?"
"Let's remember we're all, at the end of the day, people," he added. "We've all got families and we're all just trying to get through life together."
As melted wax streamed over the side of the curb, signs reading "WE NEED JUSTICE," along with Singh's name, were placed around the memorial.
Tupelo Police Chief John Quaka said that during his 27 years in law enforcement, he's never gotten used to dealing with cases like this. And he doesn't want to get used to it.
"When there's a terrible event, I think "OK, this is it. Surely this is the last one. Surely we will learn from this,'" Quaka said. "And it never happens. We never seem to learn. It just seems to continue. The evil continues to consume our world. At some point, it has to stop. I pray that this is it. I pray that this is the event that sets Tupelo and Lee County into the mindset 'enough is enough.'"
Quaka told Singh's friends and family that while there's nothing he can do to bring him back, he will do his best to see that justice is served, and he hopes that it will prevent this from happening to anyone else in the community.
After a moment of silence for prayer, Holland dismissed the crowd, saying "The light of a faithful life never dims nor dies." Attendees were slow to disperse, continuing to share stories with one another of interactions they'd had with the gas station clerk.
Singh, an only son, came to America to help support his parents and hoped to one day bring them to the U.S., Gagan Singh said.
Instead, his body will be flown back to his family in Kapurthala, a city in the Punjab state of India, on Tuesday.