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Police: 7 dead, including suspect, at Sikh temple

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, Aug. 5 2012 8:24 p.m. MDT

"These are people I've grown up with," she said. "They're like aunts and uncles to me. To see our community to go through something like this is numbing."

Many Sikhs in the U.S. worship on Sundays at a temple, or gurdwara, and a typical service consists of meditation and singing in a prayer room where worshippers remove their shoes and sit on the floor. Worshippers gather afterward for a meal that is open to community members, regardless of their religious beliefs.

Kaur said she spent the afternoon serving as a translator between law enforcement and survivors at a nearby bowling alley. Police investigators kept witnesses inside the bowling alley's basement into the evening.

"We don't even know who's downstairs," Ravi P. Singh, 25, of Greenfield, said after going to the bowling alley to see if he could get more information about what had happened.

Sixteen-year-old LeRon Bridges, of Oak Creek, works at the bowling alley said police brought people from the temple over in two armored trucks. At one point, about 50 to 60 people were at the bowling alley, including police officers questioning witnesses and paramedics treating victims' wounds, he said.

"They were just hysterical," Bridges said. "There were kids. One big load came out of the truck."

Sikhism is a monotheistic faith founded more than 500 years ago in South Asia. It has roughly 27 million followers worldwide. Observant Sikhs do not cut their hair; male followers often cover their heads with turbans — which are considered sacred — and refrain from shaving their beards. There are roughly 500,000 Sikhs in the U.S., according to estimates. The majority worldwide live in India.

The Sikh Temple of Wisconsin started in 1997 with about 25 families who gathered in community halls in Milwaukee. Construction on the current temple in Oak Creek began in 2006, according to the temple's website.

Sikh rights groups have reported a rise in bias attacks since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The Washington-based Sikh Coalition has reported more than 700 incidents in the U.S. since 9/11, which advocates blame on anti-Islamic sentiment. Sikhs are not Muslims, but their long beards and turbans often cause them to be mistaken for Muslims, advocates say.

Police in New York and Chicago issued statements saying they were giving Sikh temples in those cities additional attention as a precaution after the shooting, which also came two weeks after a gunman killed 12 people at movie theater in Colorado.

Valarie Kaur, who chronicled violence against Sikh Americans in the 2006 documentary "Divided We Fall," was returning to her home in New Haven, Conn., after speaking at a White House conference Friday when she heard about the shootings.

Even though the gunman's motives were a mystery Sunday, Kaur said the shootings reopened wounds in a community whose members have found themselves frequent targets of hate-based attacks since Sept. 11.

"We are experiencing it as a hate crime," she said. "Every Sikh American today is hurting, grieving and afraid."

Associated Press writers Gretchen Ehlke in Milwaukee; Patrick Condon in Minneapolis; Sophia Tareen and Michelle Janaye Nealy in Chicago; and Larry Neumeister in New York contributed to this report.

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