TAYLORSVILLE — Former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. and wife Mary Kaye took off their shoes and wrapped bandanas around their heads as they entered the Sikh Temple of Utah.
"Our condolences to you and your entire congregation," the former governor said Monday afternoon, shaking hands with local Sikhs who were lined up to greet him.
Hunstman said he "instinctively and immediately" wanted to visit the temple after hearing about the shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin on Sunday that left six people dead and several others injured.
"When events like (Sunday's shooting) happen, I want you to know that everyone is with you," he said during a brief service inside the temple. "They might not come to visit as I have today ... but I would say most all Utahns' hearts are very heavy with a sense of sadness about what happened."
The Huntsmans sat on the floor of the temple with Sikh members during a reading in Punjabi from the religion's holy text. Afterward, they were presented with saffron shawls as a show of thanks and honor from the congregation.
"I want to thank you on behalf of a lot of people in this state for the contributions you have made to our society, to education, to industry, to the economy and enriching our culture and our lives in this state," Huntsman said.
The former governor also thanked the Sikhs on behalf of his family, specifically mentioning daughter Asha Bharati, who was born in India.
Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill, a member of the local Sikh congregation, called the shooting tragic.
"Any time these types of events happen, it's absolutely devastating to a community, especially when it happens in the context of a prayer service and people at a church are gathering to just pray," Gill said.
Sikhs worldwide have suffered persecution following 9/11, often mistaking them for Muslims.
"Whether somebody is going after Muslim Americans or Indian Americans, the fact that somebody is going after (anyone) with this hate and this kind of level of violence is absolutely, absolutely wrong," Gill said.
Sikh Priest Gurmeet Singh also condemned the shooting.
"We don’t want this to happen for any religions," he said through a translator. "We pray for everybody's well-being."
The Sikh Temple of Utah, 4897 S. Redwood Road, serves the religion's members in five states — Utah, Idaho, Montana, Nevada and Wyoming. There are between 250 and 300 Sikh families in those states, members said.
Sikhs believe in one universal god and treating all people equally, members said. The religion's core values are living in divine consciousness, earning honestly and sharing generously.
Sikhism is the fifth largest organized religion in the world with more than 30 million members, the majority of which reside in the Punjab region of India.
Contributing: Carole Mikita
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company