Cpl. Ronil Singh spent time with his wife and 5-month-old son on Christmas Day before heading out to work an overnight shift.
In the predawn hours of the next morning, the 33-year-old radioed that he was pulling over a vehicle in Newman, where he had worked for the Police Department for seven years. A few minutes later, he called over the radio: “Shots fired!”
Officers who responded found Singh had been shot. He was taken to a hospital, where he died. The motorist, who had been stopped as part of a DUI investigation, was gone.
The Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department has identified a suspect in the case, but he is not in custody. His name has not been released, and authorities would say only that the man is in the country illegally.
As the search for the suspect intensifies, Singh’s family and the city of Newman — made up of a little more than 11,000 people — are left grappling with the loss of a man described as a dedicated officer and a loving husband and father.
The Newman Police Department, which employs 12 people, had never suffered a death in the line of duty.
“This has a very unique impact on a community that is very small,” Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson said. “On a police department that is very small.”
Singh, who was Indo-Fijian, came to the U.S. from Fiji about 20 years ago, his family said. He volunteered with the Modesto Police Department and was a Turlock Police Department cadet. He spent part of his career with the Merced County Sheriff’s Office as a reserve deputy sheriff.
When Randy Richardson took over as chief of the Newman Police Department, one of his first hires was Singh, in July 2011.
“He told me he came to America to become a police officer. That’s all he wanted to do,” Richardson said, growing teary-eyed during a news conference. “He truly loved what he did.”
When dispatch struggled to understand Singh because of his heavy accent, Richardson recalled, the corporal put himself through speech classes.
He served in a K-9 patrol unit and his dog, Sam, was with him when he was shot, police said.
When Richardson pulled Sam out of the patrol car, she was wearing a Mrs. Claus dog costume — just one example of the way Singh tried to “bring smiles to people’s faces,” he said.
Richardson had relieved Singh in the predawn hours of Christmas Day so he could spend time with his family before working that night.
The police chief described Singh as a man who smiled often and was never in a bad mood. He loved to hunt, fish and go out on the ocean.
Singh wanted to keep climbing ranks, with hopes one day of leading the department, Richardson said.
“Please remember the man. Please remember the husband. Please remember what he was, what he came to this country to do,” Richardson said. “He was a police officer, but more importantly, he was a human being.”
Singh was well-known in the city, according to a business owner who knew him but was too emotional to speak. The man described his death as a “big loss for us in the community.”
The corporal often stopped in the Hamlet Motel parking lot, near a four-way intersection where officers would pull over motorists and write tickets.
“He was a nice guy,” said Jig Patel, the motel owner. “He would come over here and help me out whenever I called him.”
The two had spoken just the other day for half an hour about a trip Patel had taken last year to Dubai. Singh visited a lot of places in the city just to chat, Patel said.
“He knew a lot of people here,” he said. “It’s a little town.”
Patel called Singh’s death a tragedy, as well as the fact that the shooter “got away too on top of that.”
Authorities said they think the suspect is still in Stanislaus County. They did not provide additional details but said he was not from the Newman area.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement could not provide information about the man’s immigration status because ICE’s public affairs officers are out of the office for the duration of the government shutdown.
“We will relentlessly continue to hunt our suspect down and bring him to justice so … that we can bring closure to this community and this police department,” Christianson said.
Singh was destined to be a police officer, his uncle Ugesh “Yogi” Singh said in a phone interview. The family comes from the Kshatriya caste, known as warriors.
“We are the protectors,” 58-year-old Ugesh Singh said. “I’m proud of him because he was doing what he was really meant to do. … It was in his blood.”
He described his nephew as someone who was “naturally good.”
When Singh’s brother-in-law died a few years ago, the officer went to Canada, where his wife’s parents lived and brought them to his home to move in so they wouldn’t have to be alone.
“That’s the kind of guy he was,” Ugesh Singh said.
When Singh would go camping or fishing, he would take other relatives out with him. Over the weekend, he posted photos on his Facebook account from a deep sea fishing trip.
He was close with his younger brother and his parents, even buying a house on the street where his parents lived.
“He was a great son who will be dearly missed by his parents,” Ugesh Singh said.
In a photo circulating on social media, Singh — who is in uniform — is pictured with his wife, his young son and his K-9 partner, Sam, near a Christmas tree. The police dog is being retired and will remain with Singh’s family.
“I will not take another member of that family from them,” Richardson said.