The death of a 21-year-old college student on the side of an Arlington highway earlier this month has caused controversy in a local Sikh community and has caused local police to conduct an investigation.
Simran Singh, a George Mason University student from Burke, died in the early morning of Aug. 4 while traveling by car from Washington, D.C. to Arlington. Singh and several acquaintances were on southbound I-395 when, according to a police report, Singh became violent.
After the other occupants of the vehicle tried to restrain him, they noticed that Singh was non-responsive. The vehicle pulled over near the Glebe Road exit where one of the occupants performed CPR on Singh until medical personnel arrived. He was taken to Inova Alexandria Hospital where he was pronounced dead at 2:09 a.m.
Arlington County Police are investigating Singh’s death and have described it as "suspicious." However, they have not labeled the incident a homicide.
Police spokesperson Steve Gomez said that detectives will decide whether to change the case’s classification after the Medical Examiner issues a report next month specifying the cause of Singh’s death.
Because the death has not been ruled a homicide yet, Gomez said that police have not identified any suspects or persons of interest.
Priti Patel, who was dating Singh at the time of his death, said that Singh was a happy and outgoing person with no enemies that she knew of. She spoke to him a few hours before he died and said he sounded normal. "He didn’t sound intoxicated at all," she said.
Patel also said that Singh was planning on moving to Canada in a few weeks. "He had been in Virginia a majority of his life," she said. "He said he needed a change of scenery… He wanted to move somewhere that was a little more liberal."
According to Rajbir Datta, the executive director of the Sikh-American Legal Defense and Education Fund who has been involved with Singh’s family since his death, Singh went out the evening of Aug. 2 with one of the people that were in the car when he died two days later. When he came home the next day, Datta said, there were bruises on his shoulders.
"He was visibly shaken up and visibly afraid," Datta said.
Singh, a native of Fairfax County, was a member of a large Northern Virginian Sikh family originating in India. Close to 300 people attended his funeral, which was held on a Wednesday, and over 1,000 people attended religious services this weekend.
According to Datta, the mood in the local Sikh community is "very tense" because of actions taken by Arlington Police immediately following Singh’s death.
Datta said that many in the Sikh community feel that police were too reluctant to label Singh’s death suspicious, despite injuries on Singh’s body that, according to Datta, indicate that foul play was involved. He also said that many Sikhs were skeptical as to why police prohibited Singh’s parents from viewing his body until five days after his death.
"What we’re trying to do is calm down the community," Datta said. "It’s going to take time and patience."
Datta also said that "The change in direction of the county police from [calling it an] accident to [a] suspicious death has alleviated some concerns."