Remembering Victims of Hate Crimes

Balbir Singh Sodhi, 49
Mesa, Ariz.
Balbir Sodhi never found a flag.

The gregarious Sikh, who immigrated from the troubled Punjab region of India in 1988, ran a Chevron station in Mesa, Ariz., a sprawling suburb of Phoenix.

After Sept. 11, he shopped around for a flag he could fly to show his support for the United States. With the Stars and Stripes in record demand, he still hadn't turned one up on Saturday, Sept. 15.

That afternoon, as Sodhi tended to the new landscaping in front of his station, he was shot and killed with a .38-caliber gun fired from a passing pickup truck.

The truck's driver, 42-year-old Frank Roque, did not stop there. Down the road from Singh's station, Roque allegedly shot (but did not kill) a Lebanese-American gas-station clerk, then opened fire on the home of a family with Afghan roots.

After the shooting spree, he repaired to a nearby sports bar, announcing loudly, "They're investigating the murder of a turban-head down the street."

Arrested later that afternoon at his home, Roque allegedly told officers he was seeking to revenge the terrorist assaults. "I stand for America all the way," he bellowed, complaining that he was being taken in while "those terrorists run wild."

Roque was charged with first-degree murder, two counts of attempted murder and three counts of drive-by shooting. Mesa police Sgt. Mike Goulet said hate-crime charges were being considered.

Six hours before he was killed, Sodhi telephoned his mother, father, wife and children back in Punjab to assure them that he was safe, far away from the destruction in New York.

He didn't tell them what he'd told some of his customers — that he'd had at least two threats of violence since Sept. 11.

Within hours of his killing, customers began to bring flowers, candles and notes to the Chevron station, creating a street-corner memorial to Sodhi. "I have lived here all my life," read one message. "I hope I can be as American as you."

Robert Spencer, 51
Okahumpka, Fla.
David Leo Troutman was done with talking. It was time to act. Around lunchtime on Jan. 8, the retired truck driver and livestock dealer pulled up to the Island Food Store in Okahumpka, Fla., in his pickup. A shotgun lay across his lap.

He waited until he saw a black person. When Robert Spencer walked out of the store, sub and soda in hand, Troutman jumped out of the pickup, aimed at Spencer's back and fired at least two shots.

As Spencer's son and co-worker, Roderick, rushed out to help his dying father, Troutman peeled off. He stopped at another convenience store a mile down the road, put a small handgun in his mouth and pulled the trigger as customers went in and out, oblivious.

Troutman had apparently never met Spencer, a supervisor for Florida Recycling Services who lived in Leesburg, Fla. But for years, Troutman had aired racist views about black people to friends, family members — and even bare acquaintances.

His vocal complaints about black people had started fights at his old American Legion post in Indiana. Not long before Jan. 8, he had promised family members that he would "take out" as many black people as he could before he died.

Spencer's eight grieving children see irony in all this: If anyone could have changed Troutman's mind about black people, they believe it was the man who became his random target.

Their daddy charmed the socks off everyone he met, daughter Priscilla Pounds told the Intelligence Report.

On trips to visit Spencer's kinfolk in Alabama, "He would walk in any store along the way, white or black, and people would take to him right away. He would go to the person who's not smiling, say, 'There's got to be a reason why you're not smiling, and I'll make you smile.' "

"He had a blinder on him," said his other daughter, Beulah Spencer. "He didn't see color. He just saw people."

Jerry Stamper, 24
Las Vegas, Nev.
When the alarm clock woke Allen Welborn for work at 5:30 a.m. on Saturday, June 30, his boyfriend wasn't there. Late the night before, Welborn had gone to bed while Jerry Stamper headed for a nearby club where he was friends with the bartender and the deejay.

Welborn wasn't too concerned that Stamper, his partner of five years, hadn't made it home yet. "This is Las Vegas," he told the Intelligence Report. "A lot of nights don't end till 11:30 the next morning."

Besides, Welborn said that living with Stamper — a native of Battle Creek, Mich., who moved to Las Vegas as a teenager — had mellowed him out. "Unlike me, Jerry was laid back. Nothing bothered him. His favorite saying was, 'No worries.' "

When Monday rolled around, and still no sign of Stamper, Welborn had plenty of worries — especially when someone from his homeowners' association called him at work and asked, "Does Jerry Stamper live with you?"

"Yes," Welborn said.

"Then you need to come home."

Welborn was met by a homicide detective who told him what she knew: Stamper had been found at around 1 a.m. on Saturday morning, dead on a sidewalk near the apartment complex.

He had been savagely beaten, and had died from severe trauma to the back of his head — most likely from a baseball bat or a metal two-by-four.

According to Welborn, the detective "also said it was possible that his head had been slammed into the concrete over and over."

Stamper's wallet was found nearby, empty except for a work card. His pockets had been turned inside-out. Lying nearby was a pack of cigarettes and an uneaten hot dog. Police said Stamper had last been seen alive at 12:20, in a neighborhood 7-Eleven.

At press time, no arrests had been made in the case, which Las Vegas police chalked up to a robbery. Welborn said he and Stamper's father asked a police detective whether she considered it a hate crime. "She said no, it was not brutal enough."