A sheriff’s office is investigating the murder of an Indian man who was shot and killed in front of his house on Thursday in Lancaster, South Carolina. An official with the Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office said that they did not know whether or not the shooting had anything to do with the victim’s race.
“We don’t have any facts that we have uncovered yet that says he was killed for a racial reason,” Doug Barfield, an attorney for the Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office, told BuzzFeed News. “We don’t know that it’s not, we don’t know that it is.”
Harnish Patel, 43, was shot twice after returning home from the convenience store he owned, the Speedee Mart, which was about a 10-minute drive from his residence. Police received a report of gunshots and screaming shortly after 11:30 p.m. The neighborhood is in “a rural area of our county,” Barfield said, adding that local law enforcement agents “knew [Patel] well” because the store was a quarter mile from the sheriff’s office. Patel was dead in his front yard when first responders arrived.
Barfield said that the office would not “comment on the facts” of the investigation. He would not say whether there was evidence of robbery or any other apparent motive. Nor would he say whether authorities had any information, through witnesses or surveillance cameras, about the possible race of the suspect.
“We have information which I’m not going to say here and we are looking at all possible motives,” Barfield said. “We have a full team of investigators working round the clock.”
A man who picked up the phone at the Speedee Mart told BuzzFeed News that Patel was “like a nephew” to him, and that he was unaware if authorities had any suspects. He said that he had “no idea” why Patel was killed.
The incident came within days of two high-profile shootings of people of Indian descent. Less than two weeks earlier, a white man shot two Indian men, killing one, at a bar in Olathe, Kansas. Witnesses said the man harassed the two men, questioned their immigration status, and shouted, “Get out of my country!” Adam Purinton, 51, was arrested and charged with murder. A bartender whose 911 call led to the arrest told the dispatch operator that Purinton told her that he had shot “two Iranian people.”
On Friday, a day after the shooting in Lancaster, a Sikh Indian man was shot while working on his car in his Kent, Washington, driveway. The man, who survived, said that the shooter was a white man and shouted, “Go back to your own country,” the Seattle Times reported.
Across the country, a spate of hate crimes has left racial and religious minorities on edge in recent months. Scores of bomb threats have been called into Jewish community centers and schools, and Jewish cemeteries in three states have been vandalized. At least three mosque fires in 2017 have been tied to arson, with at least one more under investigation. And just over the border, in January, a white nationalist fatally shot six people at a mosque in Québec City.
Barfield said that the widespread tensions had not impacted how the office was handling the case.
“I don’t think we’re approaching it any different than any other homicide investigation,” he said.
Doug Barfield is an attorney for the Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office. A previous version misspelled his name.
Albert Samaha is Inequality Editor at BuzzFeed News and author of two books, "Concepcion: An Immigrant Family's Fortunes" and "Never Ran, Never Will: Boyhood and Football in a Changing American Inner City." He is based in New York.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.