Police in Lancaster say investigators have not ruled out a potential ethnic or racial motive for the March 2 killing of a beloved Lancaster County store owner.
After The Herald asked if the crime was racially or ethnically motivated, the news of the killing became a national story in India, where Patel was born.
Harnish Patel, 43, whom police said is of Indian descent, was found dead at his home outside Lancaster, minutes after he closed up his Speedee Mart convenience store.
Regular customers after the crime expressed outrage and dismay that Patel, a longtime merchant and immigrant beloved by regular customers, was killed.
Patel’s killing in the wake of other crimes in the United States targeting Indian immigrants is news in India, where some of the largest news outlets in the country, including the Times of India, National Herald of India and Hindustan Times have reported the killing.
An Indian immigrant convenience store owner in Rock Hill who did not want to be named told The Herald that there is concern among the immigrant population, but cautioned against jumping to conclusions that Patel’s race, ethnicity or immigrant status had any role in the crime.
The Herald asked Sheriff Barry Faile on March 3 if the crime could have been racially motivated, because of other crimes nationally that targeted Indian people and immigrants. Faile said at that time police did not have reason to believe race or ethnicity was a factor.
But Wednesday, police said they have not ruled out an ethnic attack as a motive.
“There has been much speculation about the motive for this homicide,” a statement from Faile said Wednesday. “At this time, investigators have not developed facts indicating this shooting was ethnically motivated. However, that motive has not been ruled out, and will be explored along with all other possible motives for this incident. Details of the crime are sensitive, and no additional facts concerning the incident will be released at this time.”
No motive has been determined, Faile said.
Police do not have any documentation that Patel had reported any ethnic or racial concerns to officers before he was killed, said Doug Barfield, spokesman for the Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office.
The office had received “several” inquiries from the public asking about the crime and why it happened, but so far police have not determined why Patel was targeted or killed, Barfield said.
“We at this time do not know who killed Mr. Patel, or why,” Barfield said.