Along Main Street here, the decorations in traditional Christmas hues of green, gold and red have been joined by another color: blue. Blue ribbons tied around trees and light poles. Tethered blue, helium balloons whipping in Thursday’s strong winds.
Stanislaus County’s southernmost city, with a population of about 11,300, is mourning the shooting death of Cpl. Ronil Singh, who’d been with the department since 2011. In his years there, the Modesto resident made strong bonds, and his death has rocked many in the community.
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Coming out from the office of his Hamlet Motel on Highway 33 Wednesday afternoon to learn why sheriff’s deputies were blocking off the road, owner Jig Patel smacked his own forehead in shock when learning Singh had been slain. He recalled the officer as dedicated and friendly, one who went above and beyond the job description.
Thursday morning, JJ Liquor owner JJ Fernandes shared the same sentiment. People often play up the nice things about a person when they’re taken from us, but no one has to do that about Singh, the store owner said. “He was genuine — the guy was sincere. We don’t have that many homeless in Newman, but he would help them. He would buy food here and give it to them. I’ve seen him do that.”
Fernandes called Singh a friend, not just a professional acquaintance. They’d been to each other’s homes, spent time with each other’s families. On Christmas, hours before he was killed, the corporal swung by the store, and the men talked about 20 minutes.
They laughed over spoiling their children. “One of the last things I told him was it’s not what you buy your kid, it’s how much time you spend with your kid,” Fernandes recalled Thursday. “We were both kind of laughing that we were working Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, away from families, and he was, ‘You know, this is what we picked to do in life …’
“I drove around last night thinking about this, thinking about that conversation.”
He bought the Main Street store 13 years ago because Newman is a safe town, a small town, a place where officers and the people they protect don’t get gunned down, Fernandes said. But “the world is changing, even in a little town like this,” he added. “You don’t realize it can happen to you any time, anywhere. And when you live this and if it’s somebody you know, it hits deep.”
At Newman Food Liquor, near where Singh was killed and where the suspect is believed to have bought beer shortly before the shooting, clerk Adriana Vega said the homicide coming on the heels of a recent robbery at the store has her scared. She’s lived in Newman since she was 5, she said, and remembers walking to school with no worries.
She has children of her own now, and still wants to think the city is a good place to raise them, “but now all these things are happening. It’s like, where can you be safe?”
At the J’s Styles & More salon on Main Street, owner Judith Salazar agreed that it was shocking to learn of the corporal’s slaying. All the time on the news, there are reports of murders, she said, but when she and others got alerts on their phones, their reaction was, “In Newman?”
There was widespread disbelief that such a thing could happen, and to such a good man, she said. Singh was out and about a lot along Main Street, Salazar said, and always was smiling. “He was such a good person.”
A public vigil for Singh will be held at 6 p.m. Friday at the downtown plaza, at Highway 33 and Tulare Street, the Newman Police Department said on its Facebook page.