“This guy, he’s still crying about he can’t find his wife,” Gill said. “The Sikh community is a very peaceful community. I don’t know why he did it.”
Gill said he did not know whether to call the perpetrator a terrorist. But he knows this: “Sick person, sick person, I can say.”
Gill’s father-in-law, J.S. Brar, was visiting from India and was with the family.
“No reason,” Brar said. “These poor people that lost their lives, there’s no reason for it. Just a crazy man. Otherwise there was no cause at all.”
Head priest Gurmel Singh was inside the building during the shootings. He was hobbled by grief and had to be supported as he walked. His brother-in-law, Parkash Singh, who was also a priest, was among those killed. He had only recently brought his family to the United States from India, Gurmel Singh said.
“He’s dead,” Singh said. “Two children and a wife here.”
He added: “I’m here for 15 or 16 years in the USA. And at this temple, maybe five years. There are no problems. First time problem.”
Members of the Sikh community gathered near the temple Sunday evening, rushing from around the Milwaukee area and beyond to come to the aid of family and friends and to seek information, which was scarce.
“People are scared. They want to know what’s happening,” said Balbir Singh, a restaurateur who drove from nearby Brookfield. “We are the same community. . . . It’s never happened, something like that before, in the church especially.”
Charan Bedi rushed to the temple from Chicago, about 80 miles south, when he heard about the shootings. Family members who attend the temple were safe, but family friends were harmed.
“It’s a small community, so we know all of them,” Bedi said. “A loss between any family is a loss for all of us. The main question is, why? We are a peace-loving community. There is no crime. We’re not sure if they mistook us for someone else or what.”
About 50,000 Sikhs live in the Baltimore-Washington region. Bhai Gurdarshan Singh, the high priest of a Sikh temple in Gaithersburg, was about to begin services Sunday morning when he was pulled aside and told of the shootings. He immediately informed his congregants and led them in a prayer for the victims.
“We are literally hurt, and we pray for the families,” he said.
Other congregants stepped out into the lobby to learn more on their smartphones, and some were particularly alarmed that the shootings took place while Sunday-school classes were going on.
“It makes you question your own safety as an American in your own country,” said Daman Kaur, 26, of Frederick.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the first Sikh temple in the United States. The Sikh Temple of Wisconsin was established in 1997 with 20 to 25 families. There are now 350 to 400 people in the congregation, according to the temple’s Web site.
Law enforcement officials released few details about Sunday’s shootings and would not say how many people were inside the temple at the time. Edwards said the officer who was injured, a 20-year veteran, was helping a victim outside when he was “ambushed” and shot multiple times. Another officer then shot and killed the gunman, he said, adding that the officers’ actions were “heroic.’’
“It stopped a tragic event that could have been a lot worse,” Edwards said.
Markon reported from Washington. Annys Shin and Julie Tate in Washington contributed to this report.