FORT MILL -- The store door swings open at Sunoco Petro Mart in Fort Mill. Jigar Patel spots a regular customer and plucks a pack of cigarettes from behind the cash register.
It's where his father, Mahendrabhai Gordham "Omar" Patel, stood before his was killed by a gunman last January.
Now, Patel's widow and son work at the store and wait for police to charge someone in connection with Patel's killing. And they appeal to the community for information that could lead to an arrest.
"Somebody knows something," Patel's widow said. "I help the community. Why not help me? I just want justice."
Authorities still are investigating the Jan. 4, 2007, shooting death of the 48-year-old store owner. Family members and customers wonder why.
"We are disappointed that the case isn't moving forward at the momentum that we thought it should," said Kamlesh Patel, Mahendrabhai Patel's brother-in-law. But "sometimes, they can solve a crime very fast, and sometimes it takes time. We're giving them the time they need."
Patel is frustrated no one has been held accountable for his brother-in-law's death.
"I'm sure that there's somebody out there that knows something about this case," Patel said. "They're not talking maybe out of fear. I wish they would come forward."
Patel's death was the only homicide in 2007 for the Fort Mill Police Department. The probe continues as a joint investigation between Fort Mill police and the State Law Enforcement Division, Fort Mill Capt. Bryan Zachary said.
"He had a generosity that you don't see that often in business," Zachary said about Patel. "No one is deserving of the brutality that was involved in this crime."
York County interim Coroner Sabrina Gast said Patel died from a gunshot wound. However, she declined to say where Patel was shot or how many times, citing the investigation.
Zachary previously told The Herald that a witness saw someone wearing a dark-hooded sweatshirt that concealed the head and face run from the business west on Tom Hall Street. However, he said, no other information was given.
A person of interest in the killing still is being held by authorities in North Carolina in connection with a Charlotte bank robbery, Zachary said. However, he would not say how the man factors into Patel's death. Zachary declined to comment further.
The triggerman faces multiple charges, including murder and possession of a weapon during a violent crime. A murder charge could carry up to life imprisonment, officials said.
Fort Mill Town Councilman Larry Huntley, 70, also a customer at the store, is frustrated by the lack of resolution.
"It makes me feel helpless," Huntley said. "If they were struggling over a gun, that's one thing. But Mr. Patel was just gunned down. A good man was taken down."
The last night
Nearly 13 months after Patel's death, his son, Jigar Patel, 21, still recalls the last hours before his father's death.
After Mahendrabhai Patel napped at the store, his wife left around 8:35 p.m. for their Charlotte home. At the home, Jigar Patel watched TV; his mother folded clothes downstairs.
Then the phone rang, and the caller said his father had been shot.
Jigar Patel ran downstairs to his mother. "I said, 'Dad's been shot,'" he recalled. "I thought he probably got shot in the arm."
At the store, a family friend told him the elder Patel did not survive.
"My brain just shut off," Jigar Patel recalled. "I thought it was a bad dream. I thought I'd wake up, and my dad would be there sleeping on the bed at home."
Nobody had to tell Patel's widow, who arrived about 20 minutes later, Jigar Patel said. She just knew.
"She kept saying, "What am I going to do now? I just lost my husband,'" Jigar Patel said.
The next day, the store remained locked. Outside, customers set up a memorial for the man who reached out to them time and again.
His widow and son vowed never to reopen the store but changed their minds.
"It took a little bit of time to encourage her to reopen the store," said Jigar Patel's uncle, Kamlesh Patel. "Mr. Patel passed away in the store. There's a part of him that's in the store."
Mother and son made plans to sell the store but, six weeks after the shooting, Patel's widow began working there in 16-hour stretches, Jigar Patal said.
"He put his heart and soul in this store," Jigar Patel said about his father. "The store and his customers became his second family. We just want to continue that."
Jigar Patel tried to come to terms with his father's death. Days after the shooting, Patel's medical classes resumed part time at UNC Charlotte and Central Piedmont Community College.
"My dad told me whatever I want to do in life, I can do," said Patel, who plans to resume this fall as a full-time student. "Just make sure I don't quit."
Jigar Patel misses his father, a native of India who didn't have to work six days a week at the store, but did.
"He was just making a better life for me," Jigar Patel said. "He always told me, 'Hard work always gets you something in life.'"
The early days
The elder Patel came to America in 1978, his son said. He worked three jobs and perfected his English while he studied for two years at a New York college.
Later, he went to India to marry, and he returned to the United States with $1,000 in his pocket, Jigar Patel said. The couple settled in New York, where Patel became an American citizen in 1989.
The family moved to Charlotte when Jigar Patel was about 10.
In February 2002, his father purchased the Fort Mill store, where he worked long hours and sometimes napped in back, Jigar Patel said.
Since his father's death, Patel has learned how to manage the family business. He helps his mother on the weekends.
"It took me a year to understand everything," he said. "Before, I relied on him a lot. Now, I'm by myself."
Coping with the loss
Not long before the anniversary of the shooting, Patel went to India to scatter his father's ashes.
"He told me, 'Through thick and thin, you've got to move on with life,'" Jigar Patel said. "The only reason he bought this store was to give me a better life. I want to be something in life to complete his dream."
Patel and his mother find comfort in helping their customers.
"I'm not bitter," he said. "There's always one bad apple in the bunch. You can't punish everyone for one person's deed."
Still, the family wonders why Mahendrabhai "Omar" Patel, the man known for helping others, was shot.
"My dad was a Santa Claus all year round," Jigar Patel said. "If people didn't have money, he'd give it to them. If it was a customer's birthday, he'd buy them a gift."
It was that giving spirit that makes Patel's death hard to swallow, family members say. But they know Patel died where he most loved to be, despite the risks that come with running a convenience store.
"He was afraid this day might happen," Patel said. "In order for my life and her life to be better, he took that chance."
Customers now seek out the younger Patel, just like they did his father.
But if Jigar Patel could see his father again, he said he'd offer one message.
"Thanks," he said. "Without him, I couldn't be me."
Anyone with information about the Jan. 2007 killing of Mahendrabhai Gordham "Omar" Patel is asked to call the Fort Mill Police Department at 547-2022 or CrimeStoppers of York County at 1-877-409-4321.