Victims of Hate, Now Feeling Forgotten
Saturday, September 14, 2002
MESQUITE, Tex. -- Behind the counter of the Shell station here, Alka Patel is at work, selling gas and cigarettes and chewing gum and lottery tickets. At her feet, crammed into the tiny space, her teenaged son toils at his homework.
It was at this exact spot last Oct. 4 that her husband, Vasudev Patel, was shot dead. His killer, Mark Anthony Stroman, left the money behind.
His motive for the crime -- less than a month after the terrorist attacks -- wasn't robbery, but retribution. Stroman said he wanted "to retaliate on local Arab Americans, or whatever you want to call them."
Patel, 49, was an immigrant from India. His murder was one of more than 80 hate crimes -- against Arabs, Muslims and others whose appearance made them targets after the terrorist attacks -- that authorities have prosecuted in the past year.
At least a dozen murders are being investigated as hate crimes by authorities. Families of those victims say they share the grief of the families of those who perished at the World Trade Center and Pentagon and who were aboard the jetliners that crashed that day. But amid the commemorations and observances of the first anniversary of Sept. 11, they feel forgotten.
Many of them will gather today for a ceremony in Mesa, Ariz., where another Indian immigrant, Balbir Singh Sodhi, was shot to death last Sept. 15 as he planted flowers outside his Chevron station. His alleged killer -- Frank Rogue -- had raged at a bar of wanting to kill "ragheads" responsible for the terrorist attacks, police said.
"If it wasn't for September 11, my husband would still be here," Alka Patel said from behind her counter. "Why shouldn't our families be treated the same? I feel like we all have the same story."
The Patels' story here began when they moved to the Dallas area from India, he in 1982 and she in 1987, when they were married. As with generations of immigrants before them, the United States offered the opportunity for a better life. They opened the Shell station in the middle-income suburb of Mesquite, working behind the counter together.
Most mornings, Vasudev Patel would arrive early to open the station and then call his wife at 6:30 to wake her up so she could get their son and daughter off to school before joining him.
That schedule meant Alka Patel wasn't with her husband last Oct. 4, when Stroman came to the station about 7 a.m. Already in the days immediately after Sept. 11, Stroman had killed a store clerk from Pakistan and blinded a clerk from Bangladesh in separate shootings. Stroman said, "God bless America," fired a .44-cal. bullet into Vasudev Patel's chest and left.
"I did what every American wanted to do but didn't," Stroman, a 33-year-old white supremacist, later said in a television interview. "They didn't have the nerve."
Convicted of Patel's murder, he now sits on Texas's death row. On the day police arrested him, he had planned to go to a Dallas mosque, he told a reporter this summer: "I was going to go in shooting Arabs."