At least seven people have been killed and twenty injured as a gunman took over a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. The number includes the gunman, who was killed by police. Officials are treating it as a “domestic terrorist-type incident.”
Four of those shot died inside the temple, while the three others (two victims and a gunman) were killed outside. Tactical units scoured the temple and concluded there was no second gunman, a claim police say was based on the fact that they had received several radio calls about the shooter.
Three adults have been hospitalized with gun wounds into their faces, police report. They are all in critical condition. The temple’s president, Satwant Singh Kaleka, was among the wounded, though his condition remains unknown, his nephew Jatin Der Mangat said.
The first police officer to arrive at the scene engaged in gunfire outside the temple with the man police believe was the hostage-taker, Wentlandt stated. The suspected assailant was killed, while the police officer was shot multiple times but is expected to survive.
Oak Creek Police Chief John Edwards said the incident was being treated as a case of domestic terrorism, with the FBI conducting an investigation. He noted that authorities would not say anything more about the investigation, including the names of the victims, until Monday.
As many as a hundred people were gathered at the Brookfield Temple for a morning service. The temple was holding a special children’s service today, with a featured guest from India. Many potential victims were spared, as the temple was only partially full when the attack began, an hour before a big Sunday service was scheduled to start.
The first information from the scene came from the temple’s head priest, who was reportedly locked in a restroom with a cell phone.
The gunman has been described as white male, bald, with a stocky build.
Amid reports of multiple people having been shot inside the temple, some attendees appear to have been able to escape, though some remain inside.
Energy officials shut down the building’s gas supply as a precautionary measure, witnesses told local news, while police have cordoned off the street where the temple is located.
Several hours after the shooting, Wisconsin police evacuated homes in the Milwaukee suburb of Cudahy, located about six miles (about ten kilometers) from the temple in Oak Creek. FBI agents and law enforcement officers were seen arriving in Cudahy with police dogs, an armored truck, a trailer and other vehicles. A Milwaukee sheriff’s spokesperson also reported that a bomb squad was on the scene, though she did not say why.
Harinda Kaur, a 22-year old student, was on her way to the temple with her mother when she heard the news. Upon arrival they were sent by police to wait at a nearby parking lot.
“Our priest, he’s dead. One of my friends’ grandfathers, he’s dead,” Kaur bemoaned. “We would never have expected it would have happened to us. It’s a very close-knit community. No matter who’s hurt, we’re all family.”
Journalists were told to keep a safe distance from the area so as to not compromise the rescue operation.
“We would plead with the media at the scene to not broadcast any photo, video of tactical units, officer movement, and particularly no aerial footage of the event as it’s ongoing,” Greenfield Police Chief Wentlandt said.
Presidential contenders react dolefully
Homeland Security advisor John Brennan informed the president of the incident, who then issued a statement.
“Michelle and I were deeply saddened to learn of the shooting that tragically took so many lives in Wisconsin,” Obama stated. “At this difficult time, the people of Oak Creek must know that the American people have them in our thoughts and prayers, and our hearts go out to the families and friends of those who were killed and wounded.”
President Obama also said his administration would provide support to the officials investigating the shooting, and said the tragedy reminded America of how much the country “has been enriched by Sikhs, who are a part of our broader American family.”
Mitt Romney, Obama’s presumptive Republican rival for the presidency, issued a similar condolence statement.
“Ann and I extend our thoughts and prayers to the victims of today’s shooting in Wisconsin,” the former Massachusetts Governor said. “This was a senseless act of violence and a tragedy that should never befall any house of worship. Our hearts are with the victims, their families, and the entire Oak Creek Sikh community.“The temple draws worshippers from as far as Chicago, St. Louis, Missouri, and Cincinnati, Ohio.
New York police said they were increasing security presence around Sikh temples throughout the city as a precautionary measure.
The deadly incident comes just weeks after another fatal shooting in Colorado. Twelve people were killed and 58 were wounded by a lone shooter at a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises, the latest Batman flick, in the city of Aurora.
Hate-crime type attacks on Sikhs have been on the rise in the United States since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, rights groups say. The Washington-based Sikh Coalition has reported over 700 such incidents since 9/11. Advocates say the prejudice is largely fueled by the appearance of observant Sikhs. Devout followers do not cut their hair, and males refrain from shaving and wear turbans, leading some to confuse them with Muslims.