A violent attack that killed six people at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin has left congregants desperate for answers. "Over and over, (the congregants) keep asking themselves ... 'Did we do anything wrong?'" temple member Jagpal Singh said.
The shooting happened just as the temple's members were gathering to sing, eat and pray Sunday morning.
Shortly after 10 a.m., the gunman entered the temple, which is in a suburb just south of Milwaukee along Lake Michigan, and started shooting, police said. The cracks of gunfire sent many inside scurrying for a hiding place, including a group of women who sought refuge in a pantry while one telephoned a relative and warned her in whispers not to come to the temple.
The gunman also injured three people, including a police officer, police said.
A 20-year veteran of the Oak Creek Police Department responded to a 911 call about 10:25 a.m. and was tending to a victim outside the temple when the gunman ambushed him, police Chief John Edwards said. Another police officer shot and killed the gunman, he said.
Police did not release the gunman's name, but on Sunday evening a large convoy of law enforcement and fire department vehicles had surrounded a duplex and authorities were evacuating a neighborhood in Cudahy, a Milwaukee suburb just north of Oak Creek and about six miles from the Sikh temple.
FBI Milwaukee Division spokesman Leonard Peace confirmed that a federal search warrant was executed on a home in the 3700 block of East Holmes Street in Cudahy. The warrant was related to the Oak Creek shooting, he said.
Police had cordoned off a long stretch of East Holmes Avenue. Cudahy police Patrol Officer Aaron Agenten said that the FBI agents were on the street. Neighbors milled around the dark street, exchanging what little information they had, as red and blue police lights illuminated houses on the 3700 block.
Earlier in the day, police refused to speculate on the gunman's motive, but Edwards called it an act of "domestic terrorism."
Tattoos on the body of the slain gunman and certain biographical details have led the FBI to classify the incident that way, according to a White House administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.
He would not say if the gunman is believed to belong to a hate group or some other violent group, as the investigation that was handed to the FBI on Sunday afternoon is unfolding.
But federal officials cautioned against thinking that a concrete link to a domestic terrorism group or hate group had been established.
"We don't know much about the motive at this point," said a federal law enforcement official who had been briefed on the early planning for the case.
Sikhs are often mistaken for Muslims because of the religion's requirement that men wear turbans and leave their beards uncut. There have been incidents after Sept. 11, 2001, in which Sikh members have been victims of hate crimes, said Jasjit Singh, executive director of the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, noting vandalism at gas stations, beatings of cabdrivers and instances of school discrimination.
"Given that overview, when something like this happens, our first thought is that this isn't an isolated incident. It's an outgrowth of a xenophobic trend toward our community members," Jasjit Singh said.
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