Viral Dhedhiya, 18, remembers his friend Santosh Vichhivora as a shy, honest and hardworking man who had taken up the responsibility of singlehandedly looking after his mother, who is suffering from cancer, his younger brother and sister after the death of his father. Viral has not been able to stop thinking of his ever-smiling friend since Monday night, when Santosh was stabbed to death by a group of five, including four minors, in full public view.

Santosh, who is 19, had dared to confront the group of five young men who allegedly passed comments about him and a girl walking with him at 9.30 p.m. on Monday. The group chased him for about 200 metres up to the entrance of his residential complex and stabbed him in front of about 50 onlookers. Viral rushed to the spot after hearing the commotion only to see his friend lying in a pool of blood. With the help of some other members of the society, he rushed Santosh to a hospital in an auto rickshaw, where he was declared brought dead.

The Navneet Nagar complex built by Kachhi-Jain Foundation in Dombivli, a suburb in Thane district which is 20 minutes away from Mumbai, is yet to come out of shock. “That man [Santosh] was bothered only about his own work and never interfered with others. He was a good and hard-working man,” said Neeraj Maru, a neighbour.

The Vichhivora family had moved to the complex 11 months ago after the death of Santosh’s father. Santosh had been employed at a marble company in Mulund, an Eastern suburb in Mumbai. He was providing medical assistance to his mother, Vimala, who is being treated at the Tata Memorial Hospital in Mumbai and education to his sister Tanvi, 15, and brother Kartik, 11.

Santosh’s mother was disconsolate when The Hindu visited the family’s home: “What was my son’s fault? He just asked that group to not pass any comments. Even if those killers are minors, they should be given harshest of punishments. My son was only 19; it is not the time to die.”

The girl with whom Santosh was returning home narrated the incident to The Hindu : “After the bus dropped us, we started walking and he told me that he had got a new mobile number. I asked him [for] his new number.

“At the same time, one of the boys from the group of five said loudly, ‘Give me your number too.’ [Santosh] asked the boy to mind his business. I told him to not quarrel, but he asked me to go ahead and they started beating him. They followed [him] till the complex gate and none of the people standing on the road intervened, [including] the watchman. I was so scared that I ran in to the complex and when I returned, I saw him in the pool of blood,” she said.

Jayantilal Gada, 48, a resident of the complex who received a cut on his arm when he had tried to intervene, says there is not a single police chowki within 7 km. All five accused were arrested on Tuesday and were presented to the local court in Kalyan on Wednesday. Pankaj Pal, 18, the only major in the group, has been sent to the police custody for 10 days. The others have been sent to a juvenile centre in neighbouring Bhiwandi.

“My son stood his ground till the end. I want justice for him and I will ensure that he gets it,” said his mother.