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Motive unclear in shooting deaths at Sikh temple

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News Ellsworth,Wisconsin 54011
Pierce County Herald
Motive unclear in shooting deaths at Sikh temple
Ellsworth Wisconsin 126 S. Chestnut St. 54011

OAK CREEK - Why? That's what everybody wants to know this morning, after a gunman killed six people and injured three others yesterday at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek, south of Milwaukee. The gunman died a few minutes later in a shootout with police.


One account describes the gunman in yesterday's Oak Creek temple massacre as a white, single Army veteran in his 40's. Officers and a bomb squad searched the man's duplex apartment in Cudahy last night. The landlord, Kurt Weins, told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that he rented the unit to a man he believed was from Chicago - and did not have a record of violence in Wisconsin. Weins did not give a reporter the man's name, on instructions from police. The landlord said he saw nothing suspicious about the man's behavior during the short time he knew him - and he appeared to be a loner. A neighbor told the Journal-Sentinel the suspect used to live across the street with a girlfriend - but they broke up in the last few weeks, and he then moved into the duplex. Weins said he didn't know anything about a girlfriend.

The FBI is leading the investigation since it appears to be an act of domestic terrorism - and Special Agent Teresa Carlson said no motive had been determined as of last night. Agent Tom Ahern of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives said warrants were served late yesterday at the gunman's duplex in Cudahy. Federal agents, police, and a bomb squad evacuated several homes before searching the duplex.

The shootings happened about an hour before the Sunday service was to begin at the Sikh Temple. The facility had been open for several hours, a few dozen people were praying inside, and a dozen women were making food for a Sunday dinner when the shooting began and people scattered - some in a kitchen pantry. Satpal Kaleka, the wife of the temple's president, saw the gunman come in. Her nephew said he did not speak before he began shooting - and he carried himself like he had a purpose. There were fears that children were being held hostage - but that didn't happen, and it was determined that the gunman acted alone. Oak Creek Police Chief John Edwards said the officer who killed the suspect was wounded - and he was critical condition along with two other victims last night. Police said the officer would survive. When tactical units went through, they found four bodies inside the temple and two outside.

The Sikh Temple of Wisconsin was formed in 1997. Members called the shootings a hate crime. One leader said the temple had not been the subject of any recent threats.


Police in New York and Chicago had extra patrols on their Sikh temples, after the mass shootings yesterday at the temple in Oak Creek. In Milwaukee, the Islamic Society locked down its mosque - and only recognized members were allowed to attend a prayer service in the afternoon. Also, the Air National Guard's 128th Air Refueling Wing in Milwaukee went into a lockdown mode for awhile. No one was allowed in-or-out of the base. Homeland Security officials briefed President Obama throughout the day. The president said he was "deeply saddened." Governor Scott Walker and Wisconsin's other top political leaders also condemned the attacks. Walker canceled a visit to Green Bay as he offered state resources to help with the aftermath of the shootings and the investigation.


The president of the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin was among the six members killed yesterday after a gunman opened fire at the temple in Oak Creek. His son said 65-year-old Satwant Singh Kaleka tried to attack the suspect just outside the building. He was wounded in the lower part of his body - went back inside and hid with others - and died there. A United Nations humanitarian group called United Sikhs identified the other victims on its Facebook page. They were Parkash Singh and Seeta Singh, both priests - and worshippers Ranjit Singh, Parmjit Kaur Toor, and Subegh Singh. The United Sikhs also identified the two injured worshippers as Punjab Singh, who was said to be in critical condition - and Santokh Singh, who was serious. An Oak Creek police officer who killed the gunman was wounded as well. His name was not immediately released. The FBI is investigating the mass shootings as a possible domestic terrorist incident. But officials say a motive has not been established. Authorities plan to provide an update at a news conference this morning.


The head of the national Sikh Council on Religion and Education said it was a matter of time before there was an incident like yesterday's temple shootings in Oak Creek. Six worshippers were killed, and three people were injured when a gunman opened fire and was later killed by a police officer. Rajwant Singh said the country's half-million Sikhs have been fearing a tragedy like this since the September 11th terrorist attacks in 2001 - when some mistook the Sikhs for Islamic terrorists, and targeted members of a peaceful religion that stresses equality. Singh said there's quote, "so much ignorance, and people confuse us as being members of Taliban or belonging to Osama bin Laden." In Milwaukee alone, there have been at least four other attacks against Sikhs since 9-11. Swarnjit Arora of Milwaukee's Sikh Religious Society said two taxis owned by Sikh drivers were vandalized. And two Sikh men were beaten. The Sikh Coalition has reported over 700 such incidents in the U.S. during the last 11 years. Filmmaker Valarie Kaur of New Haven Connecticut has chronicled Sikh attacks since 9-11. She said the Wisconsin shootings are quote, "reverberating through every Sikh American home." And she said those people are "hurting, grieving, and afraid." Kaur calls it a hate crime, although authorities have not established a motive. Sikh men often cover their heads with turbans - and because they don't shave or cut their hair, advocates say many are mistaken for Muslims. The Sikh faith began over 500 years ago in southern Asia. Wisconsin's Sikh Temple began 15 years ago when worshippers met in community halls. They've had their own temple in Oak Creek for about six years.


Hundreds of people attended a vigil in downtown Milwaukee last night for the victims of the Sikh Temple shootings in suburban Oak Creek. A group called the Overpass Light Brigade held up a large lighted sign that said, "Wisconsin Weeps." Three women organized the event and handed out candles - but they did not arrange for any formal speeches. Instead, the crowd gathered in a circle at Cathedral Square as they spoke informally. The first man recited The Lord's Prayer. Other prayers and remembrances followed. Many members of the Sikh religion were at the vigil, and they thanked others for their kind words. One member said quote, "We are a peace-loving people." Police said about 150 people were at the vigil at any one time - and many came-and-went throughout the evening.