NEWMAN — The police chief of a tiny town fought back tears as he described the officer gunned down during a traffic stop as a patriot who fought hard to serve his adopted country while the man suspected of killing him crossed the border illegally and is a "coward."
Cpl. Ronil Singh, who emigrated from his native Fiji, was shot at about 1 a.m. Wednesday after stopping a suspected drunken driver in Newman, southeast of San Francisco in the San Joaquin Valley.
There was a gunfight as Singh "absolutely tried to defend himself" but he apparently didn't hit the suspect, Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson, whose agency is leading the investigation, said Thursday.
The man suspected of killing him the day after Christmas remained at large Friday despite a manhunt and was considered armed and dangerous.
While law enforcement agencies throughout California had been alerted, the man was believed to still be in the local area.
"We will find him, we will arrest him and we will bring him to justice," the sheriff said.
Investigators Thursday searched a farmhouse in the town of El Nido in neighboring Merced County but didn't find the suspect, authorities said.
A truck believed to have been the one stopped by Singh was later found in a garage in a mobile home park about 4 miles (6 kilometers) from the shooting, where law enforcement officers were serving a search warrant. Investigators were examining the vehicle, police said.
Families at the RV park said they knew the suspect as a neighbor who has a wife and child. They told FOX40 they have not seen him for days.
One lead took investigators to a car dealership in Merced.
"They came in this morning around 9, 9:30. We gave them the documents that we had tried to help them out as much as we can," said Jameel Taha, the owner of AR Auto Sales.
Taha told FOX40 the suspect’s brother bought the truck, the same vehicle the suspect was driving the night Singh was shot and killed.
Employees at AR Auto Sales remember when the suspect and his brother came in to buy the truck.
"Yeah, just like a normal sale. They came, they liked the truck," said salesman Adam Nasser. "They offered us an offer, we made a deal and they were on their way. Just a normal sale."
On Thursday night, the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department released new images of the man suspected of killing Cpl. Singh. However, the department said it could not confirm the information circulating about the man on social media.
"The following pictures of the suspect including a name & birth date have been circulating on social media," the sheriff's department wrote in a tweet Thursday night. "We can confirm these are pictures of the man who murdered Corporal Ronil Singh. We CANNOT, however, confirm that the correct name or birth date is being put out."
His name wasn't released but he was in the United States illegally.
"He doesn't belong here. He is a criminal," Christianson said Thursday.
President Donald Trump, whose demand that Congress approve $5 billion for a U.S. southern border wall has led to a partial government shutdown, tweeted Thursday about Singh's killing, ending with: "Time to get tough on Border Security. Build the Wall!"
Newman's police chief said the department and its 12 sworn officers were grieving.
Singh was the first officer to die in the line of duty, Chief Randy Richardson said.
Singh, a 33-year-old with a newborn son, was an "American patriot," the chief said.
"He came to America with one purpose, and that was to serve this country," Richardson said.
Singh drove more than two hours each way to attend the police academy in Yuba City, Richardson said. He joined the Merced County sheriff's office as a reserve officer and worked as an animal control officer in Turlock before being hired by the Newman force in 2011.
English was Singh's third language and he had a thick accent but took speech classes to improve his communication, the chief said.
Singh is survived by his wife, Anamika, and their 5-month-old son.
"Please help us find this coward," Richardson said of Singh's killer. "We need closure, his family needs closure."
All over Newman blue ribbons were put up in store windows and on light posts as many showed their support to their police department.