CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post misstated the number of people who died in the Aug. 5 shooting at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin. This post has been updated.
Members of Sikh communities throughout the United States, India and elsewhere as well as supporters expressed anger and sorrow in the wake of the fatal shooting at a Sikh gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wis. The incident also renews concerns about violence believers have endured since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
“The children were downstairs, in Sunday school. The women were in the kitchen nearby, cooking the weekly meal that is free to all. And the gunman was striding into the wide-open Sikh Temple, bent on killing as many people as he could. Then came the shots, ripped off,” Milwaukee’s Journal Sentinel reported.
Oak Creek Police Chief John Edwards said the incident is being treated as an act of “domestic terrorism,”didn’t provide specifics about what prompted this designation. “But FBI representatives later backed away from that categorization, saying they were still investigating motive,” Milwaukee’s Journal-Sentinel reported.
Police say the shooter killed four people inside the gurdawara near Milwaukee and two more outside, where he exchanged gunfire with an officer. UPDATE: He committed suicide by shooting himself in the head after he was wounded in the stomach, the FBI disclosed on Aug. 8 . Wade Michael Page, a military veteran who lived nearby, has been identified as the shooter and as someone who harbored extreme racial views.
“The congregation started in rental facilities in Milwaukee and established its first dedicated facility in 1999. It later bought 13 acres of land in Oak Creek and broke ground on the current temple in 2006,” Reuters reported Sunday.
“I just want to say this temple was built a number of years ago and there have never been any problems with this temple," Oak Creek Alderman Dan Jakubczyk said in a statement posted on the Sikh Coalition’s Web site. “They've been a plus to this city and to my district.”
“There have been multiple hate crime shootings within the Sikh community in recent years and the natural impulse of our community is to unfortunately assume the same in this case. Let’s let law enforcement investigate the case and as new facts emerge the dialogue can change. Americans died today in a senseless act of violence and Americans of all faiths should stand in unified support with their Sikh brothers and sisters,” Sikh Coalition Executive Director Sapreet Kaur said in a statement Sunday.
There are roughly 700,000 Sikhs in the U.S., according to the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund said about members of theworld’s fifth-largest organized religion , which originated in 5th-century Punjab (now North India and Pakistan).
In a statement Sunday, the Embassy of India noted that it has communicated with the National Security Council in Washington, D.C. that its consulate general in Chicago has also been in touch with local authorities.
“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,” Obama said.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney also offered prayers.
“This was a senseless act of violence and a tragedy that should never befall any house of worship,” Romney said in a statement. “Our hearts are with the victims, their families, and the entire Oak Creek Sikh community. We join Americans everywhere in mourning those who lost their lives and in prayer for healing in the difficult days ahead.”
“In the United States, especially since the attacks of September 11, 2001, Sikhs have sometimes been confused publicly with Muslims, but they are not Muslim. In September 2001, an Arizona gas station owner, Balbir Singh Sodhi, was shot five times and killed by a man who was said to be seeking revenge on Muslims for the hijacked plane attacks on the United States,” Reuters reported.
“The East Valley Tribune reported that Mr. Roque shouted, ‘I stand for America all the way,’’ as he was handcuffed. And while the police have not declared that the shootings were motivated by the victims’ ethnicity, they have notified Federal Bureau of Investigation officials who investigate hate crimes,” the New York Times reported in 2001.
SALDEF Managing Director Kavneet Singh said in a statement Sunday:
“We mourn the loss of those who were killed today and pray for the swift recovery of the those injured, including the veteran police officer who put himself in harm’s way to protect his community. ... All houses of worship, like this gurdwara, are places of peace. Attacks at any of the nation’s houses of worship must be condemned by all Americans. This type of crime strikes at the very foundation of religious freedom, among the fundamental principles upon which this country was built.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center tracked Page for a few years. The alleged gunman was a member of End Apathy and Definite Hate racist white-power bands, the civil rights group reported on its Web site.