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Sikh family speaks about forgiveness, community in honor of Mesa man murdered after 9/11

Balbir was killed in retaliation for 9/11
Rana Singh Sodhi
Posted at 5:00 AM, Sep 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-09 08:46:51-04

MESA, AZ — Twenty years after Balbir Singh Sodhi was killed in the nation's first retaliation hate crime for 9/11, his brother is talking about his legacy, forgiveness and community.

Rana Singh Sodhi remembers his brother Balbir as a kind-hearted and peaceful man who relocated to Arizona in pursuit of the American Dream. He built a gas station in Mesa where he became fast friends with regular customers. It was a place where the community felt comfortable.

Then the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, happened.

Days after the terror attacks, our country was emotionally shattered. Fear was rampant.

Balbir quickly realized the image of Osama bin Laden wearing a turban left many Americans fearful, confused, and unsure of anyone who wore a turban.

Rana Singh Sodhi, Balbir Singh Sodhi
FILE - In this Aug. 19, 2016, file photo, Indian Sikh immigrant Rana Singh Sodhi holds a photograph of his brother Balbir Singh Sodhi, who was gunned down at a gas station in Mesa, Ariz., in a hate crime four days after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Sodhi has preached a message of peace and tolerance in hopes of helping others better understand his religion, the fifth largest in the world with some 25 million adherents including a half-million in the United States. Sikh men typically wear turbans and beards, which makes some people mistake them as Muslims. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

Balbir was a Sikh who also wore the turban and he had a beard required by his faith.

His brother tells ABC15 that Balbir wanted to go to New York City to help with the rescue and recovery efforts. But that move was strongly discouraged by his family so he planned to hold a press conference to educate others about the Sikh community.

He wanted others to know his people are peaceful.

But that press conference never happened.

Instead, Balbir was mistaken for a Muslim and killed by a man in front of his gas station while he was out planting flowers.

He would become the nation’s first victim of a hate crime during that time period.

The 52-year-old was shot by a man who had reportedly said that he was “going to go out and shoot some towel heads.”

Rana says, “the journey has been painful without my brother but it’s been one full of forgiveness.”

Fifteen years after the murder, Rana spoke with the man who killed his brother. The man apologized to the family and the family accepted the apology.

In fact, it’s forgiveness and understanding that continue to inspire Rana and his family to reach out to other people, hoping to educate them about their community.

“People change. And I believe it, you know, through my work, maybe in 20 years...maybe 30 years, 40 years, there may be one day there is no hate...not different thinking, you know, color, creed, and gender. That's the way I look at it.”

On Sept. 15 at 7 p.m., the Sodhi Family and Sikh Coalition, in association with the Global Sikh Alliance, cordially invite the public to a commemoration of Balbir's life and legacy.

The event will include a speaking program featuring local and national interfaith leaders and elected officials. It will take place at the Chevron gas station located at 7956 E. University Dr. in Mesa.