An 'American hero' with 'a heart of gold': Slain Sikh deputy remembered at emotional vigil

PHOTO:People lay candles at a vigil in front of a poster in honor of Harris County Sheriffs Office Deputy Sandeep Dhaliwal Houston, Texas, Sept. 30, 2019. PlayMark Mulligan/Houston Chronicle via AP
WATCH Community comes together to remember Sikh deputy in Houston

A Sikh sheriff's deputy killed in the line of duty in Texas was an "American hero" who served "with dignity, honor and utmost respect," according to one local leader.

Sandeep Dhaliwal, the first member of the Sikh community to become a Harris County sheriff's deputy, was shot dead at a traffic stop on Friday in a "cold-blooded" attack, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said.

In 2015 Dhaliwal became Harris County's first sworn law enforcement officer to wear a turban.

As grieving colleagues, family and friends gathered at a candlelight vigil Monday, Bobby Singh, a leader in Houston's Sikh community, called Dhaliwal "an American who treated everyone justly" with "a heart of gold and a magnetic smile that touched all of us."

Adrian Garcia, Harris County commissioner and former sheriff, said the vigil was one of the most difficult moments of his life, calling the fallen deputy a brother to him.

Dhaliwal, a 42-year-old father and husband, always spread a message of kindness, Garcia said.

With uniformed deputies looking on, Garcia said to Dhaliwal's family, "I hope that you see Sandeep's face in everyone here today. Because this is who will help to raise your children, these are the people who will work to continue Sandeep's work. These are the ones who will work to bring down hate. This is your family."

PHOTO: The family of Harris County Deputy Sandeep Dhaliwal watches as an honor guard begins a vigil to honor Dhaliwal in Houston, Texas, Sept. 30, 2019. Mark Mulligan/Houston Chronicle via AP
The family of Harris County Deputy Sandeep Dhaliwal watches as an honor guard begins a vigil to honor Dhaliwal in Houston, Texas, Sept. 30, 2019.

"Someone asked me how I would best described Sandeep," Garcia said. "And I would say look at this magnificent crowd of diversity. Especially in the midst of division that we sometimes find ourselves in, look at this unity. There are few who could do this, in life much less in death."

"We are all better because of Sandeep Dhaliwal," he said.

PHOTO: Harris County Sheriffs Office deputies bow their heads in prayer during a vigil for Harris County Sheriffs Office Deputy Sandeep Dhaliwal in Houston, Texas, Sept. 30, 2019. Mark Mulligan/Houston Chronicle via AP
Harris County Sheriff's Office deputies bow their heads in prayer during a vigil for Harris County Sheriff's Office Deputy Sandeep Dhaliwal in Houston, Texas, Sept. 30, 2019.

At the vigil, the sheriff recalled one example of the deputy's commitment to community; when a woman was having trouble lowering her garage door and Dhaliwal saw her struggling, he offered to stay and keep an eye on her home so she could head to work.

Dhaliwal also loved children and would pin them as honorary deputies with their own badges, the sheriff said.

After the vigil, Gonzalez said he went to a convenience store in the area where Dhaliwal worked.

"The clerk greeted me & asked how I was doing. I replied I was sad for the loss of my friend," he tweeted. "Not surprising, he too knew Sandeep & mourned also. Said Sandeep would stop by & watch over them."

Dhaliwal rescued residents when Hurricane Harvey struck Houston in 2017 and helped with relief efforts after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico one month later, said Texas Congressman Al Green.

Houston Astros player Carlos Correa has donated money to the slain deputy's family, according to ABC Houston station KTRK.

Dhaliwal built bridges in his community "that he is now building in heaven," said Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo.

PHOTO: This photo provided by Harris County Sheriffs office shows Deputy Sandeep Dhaliwal. Dhaliwal was shot and killed while making a traffic stop Friday, Sept. 27, 2019 near Houston. Harris County Sheriffs office via AP
This photo provided by Harris County Sheriff's office shows Deputy Sandeep Dhaliwal. Dhaliwal was shot and killed while making a traffic stop Friday, Sept. 27, 2019 near Houston.

"Because of his soul, because of his spirit, the heavens are brighter the minute that he walked through," Acevedo said.

"I lost my hero," the deputy’s father, Pyara Dhaliwal, told KTRK. "I am missing him and I will never get him back. But he is here with me."

"Dhaliwal was a pioneer on the front lines of law enforcement as the first in his department to wear a turban and beard in police uniform, proudly representing both his Sikh faith and the Houston community," Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan said in a statement. "His sacrifice is a reminder of the brave men and women in law enforcement who put themselves at risk to protect their neighbors and communities each and every day."

Suspect Robert Solis, 47, was charged with capital murder. Solis had an active parole violation warrant for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon dating back to January 2017, according to the sheriff.