Manjeet Singh, who died trying to save three children from drowning at Reedley Beach on the Kings river in Fresno, California, did not even know how to swim.
That day, August 5, Singh, 29, wanted to celebrate his first day at trucking school and so called his brother-in-law who was at work. Then, he called two friends and they all went to the beach.
“He was excited because it was his first day at school,” Malkit Singh, Manjeet’s brother-in-law, told indica News. “He brought lunch for me at work and we decided will to go out after work.”
Everything was going well, Malkit said, and they bathed in the river for over an hour.
“He was jovial, kind and I never saw him getting angry,” Malkit said about Manjeet. “He loved saag and sweet rice.”
Manjeet, he said, had big dreams. He wanted to have a home, cars and trucking business — which he felt were not possible back home in India.
Manjeet came to the United States in 2018 and got a work permit. He stayed for a year and a half in Colorado and worked at a liquor store.
Two months back, he moved to Fresno.
“He was living with us,” said Malkit who works at Supreme Express, a Fresno-based transport company.
Around 7pm at the river, Malkit said they were heading to their car when they saw a woman yelling for help, and three children struggling in the water.
Manjeet immediately jumped into the water to save the children.
According to the police report, two eight-year-old girls and a 10-year-old boy were playing near the river and had been pulled in by strong currents.
“Manjeet jumped into the river. I knew he doesn’t know how to swim, so I jumped into as did both my friends; one of them doen’t know to swim either,” said Malkit who said he himself was not too good a swimmer.
Manjeet opened his turban and threw it to the kids to catch, but they could not.
“I rushed toward the girl who was going deep into the water,” Malkit said. “Manjeet somehow managed to pull the other two children to safety. Then he looked at me. I asked him to stay away as my legs were not touching the sand anymore and I was struggling to pull the girl up.”
Manjeet did not listen. He moved forward to help the girl and his brother-n-law.
“We succeeded somehow to pull the girl to safety — though she is still in critical condition — but we both got pulled down. The current was very strong and I started losing my breath. I shouted Manjeet’s name several times but he was nowhere. By then the police arrived, a lot of police. They searched for Manjeet for over an hour. They located his body a little far away on riverbed, and he was rushed to hospital.”
Asked about his friends, he said the woman helped one of them out of the water.
“It all occurred in less than 10-15 minutes,” Malkit said, fighting back tears.
“Manjeet was the only breadwinner in the family. He has an elder brother and sister. But he was not only helping his family but was helping many people back home and here as well. Because of his kindhearted nature he had many friends.”
Manjeet’s selfless act of bravery has seen people across the world hailing him as a hero. His body is to be sent back to Gurdaspur in Punjab, India.
“We are helping to get his mortal remains back.” Dr TV Nagendra Prasad, India’s consul general in San Francisco, told indica News. “The consulate is in touch with his relatives and is completing the formalities.”
Manjeet’s friends and family have set up a GoFundMe page to help support his family, said Gurdeep Shergill, a long-time community supporter in Fresno.
“Our goal was to raise $200,000 but we have raised over $133,000,” Shergill told indica News.
The children at the beach were cousins and one of the girls’ mother called several times to thank Manjeet and said they would remember him and be indebted to him.
“He was a true Sikh,” said Shergill. “Sikhs are known for seva [service]. Today every community — American, African American, Latino — all are supporting us. I think he did something bigger than himself.”
The city of Fresno announced a proclamation in memory of Manjeet Singh. It was presented to his family at the memorial held August 9 at the Sikh Institute of Fresno.
Hundreds of people attended the event, as did Fresno city council members Miguel Arias and Mike Karbassi, and Congressman Terrance John Cox (Democrat, California).