JEFFERSONVILLE — As the search for his killer continues, the community is remembering Praful Patel as a beloved business owner and a compassionate friend and neighbor.
Patel, 49, was shot and killed Thursday night in an apparent robbery at the Stop & Go he owned and operated at 2402 Allison Lane in Jeffersonville. On Saturday night, dozens of people gathered at his store for a candlelight vigil in his honor.
Jeffersonville resident Karen Temple lives within walking distance of the Stop & Go, and the store was always her last stop before going home, she said. Every day, she would go to the store to buy cigarettes or Gatorade and talk to Patel.
"It’s a horrible, horrible event that happened in our community," she said. "He’s not just a person, he’s like a staple of the community. He was just a really genuine guy."
Patel, who is married with children, owned the Stop & Go gas station and convenience store with his family for five years. Many in the community stop by the store regularly.
The suspect who killed Patel has not been identified, but the Jeffersonville Police Department is searching for a man shown in the store's surveillance footage.
The footage shows what police believe to be a man wearing dark sweatpants and a hoodie. He entered the store with a handgun around 10:40 p.m. Thursday, held Patel at gunpoint and eventually shot him. The suspect took cash from the register and fled on foot.
The police are asking the public for help to identify the suspect. Anyone with information is requested to call police at 812-285-6535 or the anonymous tip line at 812-218-TIPS.
After Patel's death, community members placed handwritten notes and flowers outside the closed Stop & Go. As people gathered for the vigil, they lined up to sign sympathy cards for his family.
Utica resident Paul Meyer, who works at the Valvoline next door, said he goes to the Stop & Go almost every morning for coffee and snacks. Patel was a beautiful soul who always had a smile on his face, he said.
"He was that one guy you could always rely on to brighten your day and just help you out a little bit," he said.
Meyer remembers Patel for his generosity toward his customers.
"Anytime you’re short 25 cents, a dollar, five dollars, he’d be like, next time," he said. "Get it next time."
Jeffersonville resident Virginia Parks usually visits the Stop & Go once or twice a day. Patel would often know exactly what the customers were there to buy, she said, and she appreciated his compassion and sense of humor.
She often had conversations with him and his family members.
"His wife would be here in the mornings, and I’d have a little conversation with her, and then I’d come by in the evenings and talk with Praful," Parks said. You couldn’t help but stop. It’s the loyalty. It’s the community — the love that they have for everybody."
Jeffersonville resident Peggy Craig typically comes to the Stop & Go once a week. She said she loved how he always had a big smile and a joke to tell customers when they walked in.
"He was such a sweet man, and it's just so senseless that something like this would happen," she said.
Chris Tungate, a teacher at Jeffersonville High School, would often visit the Stop & Go, located across the street from the school. Patel was the kind of good person the world needs more of, he said.
"I hope the person who did this sees the people he hurt when he decided to come into a store and take a life," he said.
As a large crowd stood outside the store with candles, Patel's friend Melissa Scully encouraged them to unite in peace, love and compassion. These were the values he demonstrated to the community and those who knew him, she said.
"We are here to remember one great man who so graciously fed our souls with his kind smile, his grateful words, his generous offerings of help and his genuine, unconditional love for us all," she said. "We live in a time when anger feeds anger, and that, my friends, is getting us nowhere. Let us assemble tonight and let love feed love."
Scully urged the crowd to take Patel's love and good energy and give it back to the community.
"We don’t have to forget what happened here, but let us join together here in honor of our friend and neighbor Mr. Patel and drown out the ugly by lifting his goodness — the goodness that our beautiful, humble friend exuded and stood for," she said.
Patel's niece, Priya Patel, said the community's support and the outpouring of love have given the family strength. At the end of the vigil, she asked those gathered to treat each other with love as they remember her uncle's life.
"We just want you to go home and hug your loved ones tight," she said.