The family of the man who was gunned down inside his own business' walls last week may find some solace on the day they bury their father, husband and staple of the Manning Avenue community, with Sumter Police Department's announcement of two arrests in the case.
Sumter Police Chief Russell F. Roark III on Thursday at a news conference credited the media, his officers' efforts in distributing fliers and community word of mouth for a Crime Stoppers tip that led to the arrest of Sincere Dinkins, 17, of Walsh Grove and Larenzo Hagood, 19, of Curtis Drive in the killing of Vijaykumar Patel at Save-Mart Grocery on Nov. 24.
"He was a father. He was a husband. He was a critical part of our community. He was a beloved business owner in the community that is still a neighborhood environment, a neighborhood store," Roark said. "Many individuals came to us and told us and described to us how, oftentimes, Mr. Patel would allow them credit or would take a check in advance of the deposit going in so they could receive the things they needed in order to survive."
Both suspects are charged with murder, attempted armed robbery, possession of a weapon during a violent crime, criminal conspiracy and two counts of kidnapping, Roark said.
"Because of our reaching out to the community, but I think more importantly because of the publicity we received of this - for lack of a better term - of this terrible event, this very violent act and crime Crime Stoppers received [an] overwhelming amount of support and information from the community," Roark said.
Dinkins and Hagood are accused of entering the store just before 7 p.m. that Friday, donning masks and armed with handguns, and reportedly ordering two customers - warranting the kidnapping charge - to the ground before at least one of them began firing.
Law enforcement and EMS found Patel unresponsive with several apparent gunshot wounds to the chest, according to an incident report. He was pronounced dead at the business he had run for at least seven years.
The customers - two females who told officers, according to the report, they had stopped by the store to buy "a drink and something to eat" - were not injured.
Both suspects have prior juvenile records that involved violent crimes, Roark said.
He said it is not being released whether it is thought one or both fired shots that struck Patel. There are no other suspects expected to be detained "at this time."
They are being held in Sumter-Lee Regional Detention Center, pending bond.
Third Judicial Circuit Solicitor Ernest A. "Chip" Finney III said all the information and evidence has been passed over to his office, where it will be analyzed and studied to aim for a "speedy" conclusion.
"Getting the news out into the community so that everyone knew that we were looking to close the case quickly," he said, was a key part to the initial investigation, "and I think we've done a fine job."
Roark said this type of random shooting was unprovoked, isolated and rare in the community where many people must walk to receive essential items and that Patel's store is the only access to those items within a normal walking distance.
"This is the individual we need to remember," Roark said. "This is the person we need to continue to support - and the family - as we continue to go on in the coming days."
He said the city police department has had "a lot of good luck" in using Crime Stoppers.
"Most of the people - the high majority of the people - that live within the city of Sumter are law-abiding citizens," Roark said. "What we strive to do as a community and as a law enforcement agency, we strive to improve the quality of life for all citizens. To have a safe environment. What we cannot predict with any degree of certainty is the human factor, especially when it's a person-on-person crime."
The family, he said, is relieved an arrest has been made.
"That begins the closure," he said, "but they have a long way to go because their father was taken so quickly and so senselessly."
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