Fresno Sheriff’s Department
Armitraj Singh Athwal, 21, after being arrested Monday night on suspicion of DUI, and drugs and weapons charges. He was connected to the murder of a Madera store clerk a short time later.
The man suspected of shooting and killing a Tackle Box store clerk, 22-year-old Dharampreet “Veer” Singh (Jassar), has been arrested and charged with the murder, according to authorities.
“It was just senseless and such a tragedy,” said Tackle Box convenience store owner Pete Nijjar. “They fired at him to scare him when they walked in. He didn’t resist, and handed over the small amount of money, and even left the register open for them to see. He got down behind the counter. They took two cases of cigarettes. Then they fired more shots and hit him as they left (the store.) There was just no reason to do that.”
Singh was found dead behind the counter by a customer a few minutes later, according to Nijjar.
Bullet holes could be seen in the store counter and shelving, and a dent was visible in the side of the cash register drawer.
The man alleged to be the shooter is Armitraj Singh Athwal, 21, of Modesto, according to Madera County Sheriff Jay Varney.
Athwal was found alone when arrested near Kerman less than an hour after the shooting on suspicion of DUI, after driving a red Toyota pickup truck into a Fresno County ditch and becoming stuck, Varney said. Drugs and several hand guns, a stolen .22 caliber assault pistol with high capacity magazines and an unregistered .38 caliber handgun, alleged to be the murder weapon, were also found in the vehicle. Athwal is being held in lieu of $1 million bail.
The arresting Fresno County Sheriff’s deputy reportedly saw the suspect’s description on his phone news app from a local television station and connected him to the murder after shortly booking him into jail. Local witnesses had also reported seeing the red pickup around the store near the time of the shooting.
Another one of the other notable characteristics of the suspect, according to Varney, was that Athwal was still without shoes and still just in his socks when arrested, as was clearly seen on the store video.
The vehicle driven by the suspect has been impounded as evidence and will be processed for additional information.
Varney said the motive for the killing was unknown.
“It’s a pretty cowardly act,” Varney said. “He had completed the robbery and gotten what he wanted. To then shoot the clerk — who posed no threat ... on the way out the door. But this was a targeted act, with the suspect firing directly at Singh who had cooperated,” Varney said.
There was also no apparent known connection between the suspect and the victim, but the investigation is ongoing. “Social media definitely helped us make the first connection,” Varney said, “but we still need the public’s help in locating the second suspect.”
Anyone with information is asked to call the Madera County Sheriff’s Office at 675-7770, or Valley CrimeStoppers at 498-STOP. CrimeStoppers pays up to a $2,000 reward for anonymous information leading to an arrest and a conviction in a crime.
Nijjar said the loss of Singh was felt by his family and the entire community, as many customers, business owners and other friends had called, stopped by and left notes and cards to express their shock, grief and condolences.
Singh, a student at Fresno State, was preparing to close the gas station and convenience store on Road 26, Monday night shortly before 11 p.m., when the two masked men entered the store, according to Nijjar. The entire incident was caught on the store’s extensive video surveillance system.
Singh was personable, happy, hardworking and well liked by customers, according to Nijjar, and was also working to make a good life for himself. He was a student at Fresno State and hoped to work in accounting.
He is survived by his grandparents, with whom he lived in Fresno, and his parents and extended family. He was also known for his big smile, and positive, optimistic attitude, friends said.
A small memorial of flowers left by friends and customers was growing outside the doors of business.
“This just doesn’t happen here.” Nijjar said. “I have been in this business 25 years and never had an incident ... a shooting ... a murder like this. It just makes no sense. It was a Monday night. And there isn’t much cash involved in store sales anymore, it’s mostly debit or credit card sales now,” he said.
A steady stream of friends and shaken customers entered the store Tuesday and Wednesday, and shook their heads in sadness and disbelief, saying they had just seen and talked to Veer a day or two before.
“I don’t know who or why they would do something like this to him,” said one distraught man.
“We just want to say we thank each and everyone who was impacted by this tragedy and shared their grief with us. We truly appreciate their support,” Nijjar said.
A GoFundMe account has been set up as: Veers-memorial-fund or at https://www.gofund me.com/veers-memorial
-fund for funeral expenses, and to provide assistance to his family.