Globe and Mail: Wisconsin Sikh temple shooting probed as 'domestic terrorism'

Grief rippled through Canada’s Sikh community as news of the shooting reached people leaving their Sunday morning prayer services. “You feel so helpless when you see the violence that’s taken place,” said Balpreet Singh, acting executive director of the World Sikh Organization of Canada. “Really, all you can do is pray for the victims.”

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/seven-killed-including-suspect-in-wisconsin-sikh-temple-shooting/article4464024/

JAMES BRADSHAW

A gunman allegedly fired on a crowd of worshippers at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin Sunday morning, leaving six people as well as the suspected gunman dead. At least four others were wounded, including a police officer, in what police are calling an act of “domestic terrorism.”

Dozens of men, women and children had gathered ahead of an 11:30 a.m. service at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek, a suburb just south of Milwaukee, some of them to prepare food. The alleged assailant approached the temple, shooting two people in the car park outside before moving inside, where he fired on the congregation, including more than a dozen women in the building’s kitchen who fled to the pantry, witnesses said. Several people stayed safe by hiding in closets.

The first police officer to arrive on scene was reportedly ambushed by the suspect, who wounded the officer multiple times, said Oak Creek Police Chief John Edwards. A second officer fired back, killing the suspect, as police and ambulance vehicles swarmed a chaotic scene. They found victims sprawled inside and outside the building and others still trapped inside.

After a search of the temple, Chief Edwards contradicted earlier reports of multiple shooters holding hostages, saying there appeared to have been only one gunman. Police have yet to reveal the suspect’s identity or possible motives, but witness reports suggested he was a tall white man with a bald head, matching a description given to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel by a temple committee member who had spoken with people inside the temple.

This latest mass violence comes little more than two weeks after a gunman opened fire in a Colorado movie theatre, killing 12 people and wounding 59 others.

U.S. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama said they were “deeply saddened” in a statement released by the White House shortly after 4:30 p.m. “As we mourn this loss which took place at a house of worship, we are reminded how much our country has been enriched by Sikhs, who are a part of our broader American family,” Mr. Obama said.

Sikhs are a tiny but steadily growing population in Winsconsin, a state that is far less multicultural than many Canadian provinces, though Milwaukee is attracting a greater concentration of visible minorities. Sikhism arrived in earnest in the mid-1990s with the founding of multiple temples, where congregations have since grown from a few families to hundreds of people each, building ever-larger temples to accommodate their swelling ranks.

Kamaljit Singh Paul, a neurosurgeon and board member at the Sikh temple in Fox Valley, Wis., said Oak Creek’s temple has been a peaceful community that has blossomed without incident. He added that many Sikhs flocked to the region for business opportunities and have also been attracted to welcoming communities.

“Everyone was shocked,” Mr. Paul said of his congregation, who learned of the shooting in the middle of their own morning service, which ended early as local Fox Valley police arrived to gaurd the temple in case of further violence. “[Oak Creek is] a nice, peaceful community. … People [in Wisconsin] are friendly, and [there’s] not much the way of any bias.”

It is still unclear how many people were harmed, though at least three priests suffered bullet wounds. Satwant Singh Kaleka, the temple’s president, was one of those shot, according to his nephew, Jatin Der Mangat, 38, and one local hospital accepted three men to its trauma centre, including the wounded police officer.

Grief rippled through Canada’s Sikh community as news of the shooting reached people leaving their Sunday morning prayer services. “You feel so helpless when you see the violence that’s taken place,” said Balpreet Singh, acting executive director of the World Sikh Organization of Canada. “Really, all you can do is pray for the victims.”

Amanpreet Bal, a volunteer at the Ontario Khalsa Darbar – one of Ontario’s largest gurdwaras, or Sikh places of worship – said a special prayer for the victims would be offered at evening prayers on Sunday. And Sukhwinder Singh Sandhu, secretary of the Ontario Gurdwara Committee, said members would meet the same evening to discuss the tragedy. Mr. Sandhu said his Rexdale-based community was weighed down with “a sad mood,” but not at all worried for its own safety.

The Sikh Temple of Wisconsin was founded in 1997, and had a community of nearly 400 people by 1999. The temple began building its current home in 2006, after outgrowing its two previous buildings. Wisconsin’s only larger Sikh temple is in nearby Brookfield, to which police blocked access as a precaution on Sunday.

Some 500,000 of the world’s estimated 27 million Sikhs live in the U.S., the majority in California and New York.

With reports from the Associated Press


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