Early on Sunday in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, it has been reported that seven people, including the gunman, have been killed in an attack on worshipers at a Sikh temple, police said. The officer who shot the gunman was wounded but “returned fire, and that shooter was put down,” said Bradley Wentlandt, the police chief in nearby Greenfield, who briefed reporters. Wentlandt added that investigators who picked through the building afterward found four bodies inside the temple and two other victims outside, plus the gunman.
The Sikh temple is south of Milwaukee and one of the temple’s committee members, Ven Boba Ri, told the Journal-Sentinel that the shooter was a white male in his 30s. “It’s pretty much a hate crime,” he tells the news organization. “It’s not an insider.” Ri told the Journal-Sentinel that the shooter walked up to a priest who was standing outside and shot him. According to Ri, the shooter then went inside and began firing at others. So far, police have not suggested any motive.
As of 3:18 p.m. ET, CNN reported that the Indian Embassy has said they are monitoring the situation and that it is in touch with the National Security Council over the incident. President Obama, who the White House reports touched down in Washington via the Marine One helicopter, has been informed of the situation. News of the tragic event hit the internet and a Facebook page was created that was encouraging the public to pray for the victims of the Sikh shooting.
Family members gathered outside the temple, or gurdwara, as they waited to hear news about their relatives being questioned in a nearby bowling alley. While some were telling reporters what relatives had recounted to them about their experiences, one of the gurdwara’s leaders, Darshan Dhaliwal, said Sunday afternoon he wasn’t sure how many were hurt. Dhaliwal told CNN affiliate WTMJ that “Our dear ones and near ones are injured and hurt, and we are trying to find out what happened.” And another man told the station, “Nobody’s angry here. We’re just confused. Was this a random act? Was this directed at us because of the way we look?”
The Sikh religion originated in northern India. Sikhs believe in one god, in reincarnation and equality among all people regardless of race or religion. Sikh men are identifiable by their beards and turbans, but often confused for Hindus or Muslims. There are about 25 million Sikhs in the world, according to the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, 700,000 of which live in the United States.
State Rep. Josh Zepnick, who represents much of the Milwaukee area’s Sikh community, said he was “torn to shreds” by the attack. Zepnick is a friend of the temple’s president, whose status was unknown Sunday afternoon. He told CNN affiliate WTMJ that “It’s a very peace-loving community that has successfully integrated and assimilated into the metropolitan Milwaukee area.”
State Rep. Mark Honadel, who represents the area, said, “Unfortunately, when this type of stuff hits your area, you say to yourself, ‘Why?’ But in today’s society, I don’t think there’s any place that’s free from idiots.” He also called the attack “craziness.”
According to its website, the temple has a congregation of 250 to 400 people. Oak Creek Alderman Dan Jakubczyk said, “I just want to say this temple was built a number of years ago and there have never been any problems with this temple. They’ve been a plus to this city and to my district.”
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