Police: 7 dead, including shooting suspect, at Sikh temple

FBI to investigate shootings at Sikh temple
Police: 7 dead, including shooting suspect, at Sikh temple

At least seven people, including a gunman shot by a police officer, have been killed in an attack on worshippers at a Sikh temple in the Milwaukee suburb of Oak Creek on Sunday, police said.

Greenfield Police Chief Bradley Wentlandt said tactical officers have been through the temple where shots were fired about 10:30 a.m. Sunday. He said they found four people inside the building and three people outside who were dead. He said one of those killed outside is the suspect.

Oak Creek Police Chief John Edwards said the suspect “ambushed” one of the first officers to arrive at the scene as the officer tended to a shooting victim.

Edwards said the suspect shot the officer multiple times outside the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin on Sunday morning. A second officer then exchanged gunfire with the suspect and fatally shot him.

Edwards said the officer who was ambushed is undergoing surgery at a nearby hospital and is expected to survive.

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Police earlier said the officer who was shot had killed the gunman, but released updated information later Sunday afternoon.

Police said the FBI will handle the investigation of the shootings.

“We’re treating this as a domestic terrorist-type incident, and therefore the FBI has the resources needed to help investigate that,” said Edwards.

Edwards said during a news conference Sunday afternoon that seven people are dead, including the suspected shooter, and three people are wounded. One of those is a police officer shot by the suspect.

The shootings happened as people were gathering for a service at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek, which is just south of Milwaukee.

Authorities responded with a dozen ambulances and tactical units.

Wentlandt said police do not believe a second shooter was involved.

“It’s believed that the reports of multiple shooters were likely reports of the same shooter from different perspectives, which is very common in an active shooter incident,” said Wentlandt.

A Milwaukee hospital is treating the police officer shot at the temple and two other victims. All are in critical condition.

Froederdt Hospital Chief Medical Officer Lee Biblo said the three victims of the shooting in suburban Oak Creek are all adult men. The hospital did not immediately identify the police officer or the other two victims.

Hospital spokeswoman Carolyn Bellin said one of the victims had gunshot wounds to the face and extremities, and another had wounds to his abdomen. She did not know which was the police officer, or the nature of the third victim’s wounds.

“The biggest question we have is, is this a hate crime and what did we do wrong?” said a temple member at the scene. “People are calling from India asking about this. We’re the fifth-largest religion but we’re tightly knit and if anything happens in the other part of the world we know about it, and since 9/11 there has been increased awareness about this, especially in our community.”

Members of the temple said they want others to understand that Sikh is a peaceful religion.

“We just want to educate Americans. This tragedy has to have some sort of silver lining, and Americans have to know who Sikhs are. We’re a peaceful religion. We’re hardworking and honest people,” the temple member said.

Witnesses outside of the temple said people inside with whom they have spoken described a hostage situation.

Sukhwindar Nagr, of Racine, said he called his brother-in-law’s phone and a priest at the temple answered. Nagr said the priest told him that his brother-in-law had been shot, along with three priests.

Nagr said the priest also said women and children were hiding in closets at the temple.

The Sikh American community and the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund issued a statement Sunday about the shootings.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their families, and the Oak Creek community following this tragic attack at the Oak Creek, Wisconsin Gurdwara. The Sikh American community, like all Americans, is shocked after this attack. We mourn the loss of those 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,” the group said in the statement. “Houses of worship, like the 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 tolerance, the principle upon which this country was built.”

Gov. Scott Walker released a statement on the incident Sunday, saying that state officials are working with the FBI and local law enforcement and are continuing to receive updated briefings about the situation.

“Our hearts go out to the victims and their families, as we all struggle to comprehend the evil that begets this terrible violence,” Walker said in the statement. “At the same time, we are filled with gratitude for our first responders, who show bravery and selflessness as they put aside their own safety to protect our neighbors and friends. Tonette and I ask everyone to join us in praying for the victims and their families, praying for the safety of our law enforcement and first responder professionals, and praying for strength and healing for this entire community and our state.” 

President Barack Obama said he and first lady Michelle Obama are “deeply saddened” by the killing of at least six people Sunday at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin.

In a statement issued by the White House, Obama told the people of Oak Creek that “the American people have them in our thoughts and prayers.” He said, “Our hearts go out to the families and friends of those who were killed and wounded.”

The president said his administration will provide “whatever support is necessary” to those investigating the shooting.

Obama stressed “how much our country has been enriched by Sikhs,” whom he described as “part of our broader American family.”

By sundown, prayer returned, but in the form of a vigil at a downtown Milwaukee park.

“It’s all human beings,” said Shashi Bhushan, who came to the gathering. “It doesn’t matter what religion, what community, we’re just here to show support.”

Those at the vigil held hope in their hands with a flicker of light that they hoped could bring peace back.

One unidentified attendee vocalized what many were thinking.

“I think we need some awareness in people that we need to respect other people’s religion and be considerate and be loving.”

Police gave no answers as to the shooter’s motive, but Sikh members say they are often confused for Muslims due to their turbans and long beards.

Many wondered if, in the post-9/11 world, Sunday’s shooting wasn’t a result of that confusion.

Stay tuned to WISC-TV and Channel 3000 for continuing coverage. 

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