It was a graphic scene police officers relayed over their radios to dispatchers Sunday night as they discovered four family members shot to death in a West Chester Twp. apartment.
Smoke came from burning food on a kitchen stove as one officer said two of the four were laying in “a good amount of blood” in the living room.
“We have four victims,” he said, “there’s no signs of life.”
Police found Hakiakat Singh Pannag, 59, and his wife, Parmjit Kaur, 62, in their apartment at 4562 Wyndtree Drive with their daughter, Shalinderjit Kaur, 39 and Parmjit Kaur’s sister, Amarjit Kaur, 58, Sunday evening with gunshot wounds.
The West Chester Twp. community was shocked by Sunday’s quadruple homicide, not knowing why someone would kill four members of a family who by all accounts were beloved members of the Sikh and West Chester community.
Police have assured residents at the Lakefront at West Chester apartment complex they are safe because this was not a hate crime. The shootings were not random, police said.
“Our community is reeling from the murders of our neighbors,” said the West Chester Twp. trustees in a joint prepared statement. “Together we mourn the loss of human life and extend our collective community support to their family and for our Sikh neighbors.”
The event Butler County’s deadliest criminal act since James Ruppert killed 11 members of his own family on Easter Sunday in 1975. It is also the fifth-most deadliest day in Butler County since the Ruppert slayings, according to the Butler County coroner’s office.
In June 1988, seven people, including five children, died in a fire on Heaton Avenue in Hamilton. Five people each were killed in a pair of car crashes, in Madison Twp. in 1991 and in then-Union Twp. (now West Chester Twp.) in 1990.
First 24 hours, and ensuing days
A frantic man called 911 at 9:41 p.m. on Sunday, April 28, crying and screaming to dispatchers that he found four of his family members — including his wife — laying on the floor of their apartment. As he was talking with a dispatcher, the man also banged on doors and screamed for neighbors to help.
Eventually, he told the dispatcher his wife and other family members were all laying on the ground and bleeding from the head. He had just gotten home.
When police arrived, they saw smoke coming from burning food in the kitchen and two bodies in the living room, according to scanner traffic released Wednesday by police.
No one, according to the released audio, appeared to be alive.
On Monday and Tuesday, West Chester detectives were searching inside and around the apartment, and a Bureau of Criminal Investigation dive team searched for evidence in a nearby pond.
Rick Kavorsky, a resident of the Lakefront at West Chester apartment complex, talked with media members about the search. He lives a few dozen feet from the pond and “could see them holding something, carrying something up the shore and they put it in a white bucket,” he said.
He didn’t see what investigators found, but said, “They picked something up, and they took a bunch of measurements. One of the guys was walking with a metal detector and all of a sudden looked up and shouted, and everybody rushed towards him.”
West Chester police said Wednesday that investigators have “followed countless leads and gathered considerable evidence” with the help of community members and people who knew the victims.
The Butler County Coroner on Tuesday identified the family members, stating they all died of gunshot wounds. However, that’s all the office is confirming.
“We’re not going get into specifics at this time,” coroner spokesperson Martin Schneider said.
The deaths of this Sikh family have not only shocked the West Chester Twp. community, but their home country as well.
“We are totally in the dark,” Harbans Singh, Pannag’s brother, told the Indian news outlet Hindustan Times. “Don’t know how it happened and who is behind it? I just know that I have lost my brother.”
Hakiakat Singh Pannag and Parmjit Kaur were scheduled to travel last week to Pannag’s home of Punjab.
Harbans Singh told the Hindustan Times that his brother came to the United States about 40 years ago “and was living happily. I don’t know much about his work and lifestyle in the U.S., but in India, he is cordial with relatives and friends. Everyone is in shock.”
Hakiakat Singh Pannag and Parmjit Kaur visited Punjab last year.
Parmjit Kaur’s nephew, Jashandeep Singh, told the Hindustan Times his aunt was “looking forward to visiting India.”
The India government is also keeping watch over the investigation, according to a tweet from Sushma Swaraj, the minister of External affairs for the India government.
“Our Consul General in New York is coordinating with the concerned authorities and will keep me informed me on this,” she said.
Satnam Singh and his wife, Subdiner Kaur, said their customers at India Bazar on Union Centre Boulevard in West Chester Twp. can’t believe the news.
“Everybody is talking about this,” Subdiner Kaur said. “It’s really a shock.”
Satnam Singh said he and his wife are “very worried” as the shooting happened one building over from where they live in Lakefront at West Chester.
The couple recalls his neighbors as “always a happy family” who frequented their grocery store.
As the investigation continued late last week, West Chester Twp. trustees said they have faith in the police department “to find justice in the wake of this tragedy. “Holding accountable the person responsible for this unimaginable crime is our top priority,” they said in a statement.
Trustees plan to honor the family at their meeting Tuesday evening. The leaders of the Guru Nanak Society of Greater Cincinnati on Tylersville Road have been invited to speak and pray before the board’s 6 p.m. meeting.
Funeral services for the family have not been announced as of Friday.