'He was our support system' — Slain Sumter store owner's daughter, friend pleads for community's help in finding suspects

Two men suspected of homicide on Black Friday at large

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Chains still wrapped around the door handles to Save-Mart Grocery on Manning Avenue on Monday, days after its owner, once a beloved community member who would always help a neighbor in need, became a homicide victim within his own business's walls.

By Monday morning, flowers had been placed on the ground in front of the doors, fluttering in the wind more easily than the lock and links hanging above. The lottery neon sign still flickered in the window.

Two unidentified men suspected of shooting Vijaykumar “Kumar” Thakorbhai Patel in a “senseless act” without a known motive on Friday night remain at large, and Sumter Police Department investigators, a fellow business owner and Patel’s daughter are pleading for the community’s help in finding them.

“Two black males ordered people to the ground and opened fire, and they struck [Patel] several times,” Sumter Police Department Capt. Angela Rabon said. “No commands, no requests that we know of.”

Rabon said this type of stranger-to-stranger homicide is rare in the community, which is just south of downtown Sumter where South Main Street turns into Manning Avenue.

“It’s a close-knit community. Everyone there is pretty upset,” she said.

Patel opened the store in spring 2010.

Rabon said the other people in the store at the time of the shooting — she would not disclose how many witnesses there were — could not provide a description of the suspects’ clothing, vehicle or other physical features except that they were wearing masks over their faces and were armed with black semi-automatic handguns.

The store has been closed since the incident.

“He opened the day after Thanksgiving to help the people in the community,” said Capt. Jeffery Jackson, who oversees the city’s patrol division. “He probably didn’t have to open, but he did.”

The department is offering a $5,000 reward for any information that leads to an arrest — $5,000 is “a little more than normal” because of the “nature of” the crime.

“It’s a random act of violence that no one expected,” Jackson said.

He said the closest actual grocery store — Save-Mart is more of a mom-and-pop one-stop convenience store — is “farther than a lot of people in this community can probably walk to.”

Convenience was not the only reason people went to Patel’s store.

“He was a very good guy to his neighbors. If you didn’t have all the money to get something, he wouldn’t turn you away. He’d let you owe him,” said Kenny Black, owner of Kenny’s Car Wash on the corner of Broad and Purdy streets. “Now, it’s a lot harder for them just to go get something they need or to go get one Pepsi. It hurts the community in more ways than one.”

He said he wants the “bad guys who did it” to be caught so his family can grieve and so neighbors and business owners can stop feeling scared.

If it happened to Patel, Black said, “it could happen to me. It could happen to anybody.”

Talking about a senseless act like this shooting may be hard, but Black said he wants to do anything to help get the word out.

“If I say something, maybe someone else will say something, and maybe that will help,” he said.

Patel’s daughter wants the same justice for her father as Black wants — to find the men who took their father, their friend away from them.

“He’s been working here at our store for eight years, and he never had any issues,” she said through tears that were not always held down on Monday at the police department. “He was being always to help any poor people he could. Any money, any help.

“He’s been in the U.S. for many years, and he would always tell me and my brother America is the safest country. And I don’t know how did this happen out of nowhere.”

She asked not to be named but said she wanted to talk to media and police to help her father.

“Since he’s been serving this community, if anyone saw anything … I want to find that person. That’s all I’m asking for,” she said. “My mom is going through a lot right now. She didn’t expect a call right now like this. Neither did I. Neither did my brother.

“He was our support system. He always told us not to worry.”