Wisconsin Sikh community waits to know who the killer is
Shocked members of a tight-knit community of suburban Milwaukee Sikhs waited in the basement of a neighborhood bowling alley to hear whether their loved ones and friends were among the six gunned down at a Sikh gurdwara.PM shocked by US gurdwara shooting | Anti-Sikh incidents in US since 2001 | Gunman kills six at US gurdwaraworld Updated: Aug 06, 2012 13:02 IST
Dozens of shocked members of a tight-knit community of suburban Milwaukee Sikhs waited for hours in the basement of a neighborhood bowling alley on Sunday to hear whether their loved ones and friends were among the six gunned down at a Sikh gurdwara in Oak Creek.
Outside dozens more Sikhs many men wearing the colorful turbans of their faith came and went from the site where police said a lone white male gunman shot dead six people before a police officer killed him.
Two other Sikhs were wounded along with a police officer who was one of the first to arrive on the scene.
"They are grieving", said Zorina Lopac a woman who was raised as a Sikh who was allowed into the basement to comfort some of the family.
"They are hurt. And they are angry."
Authorities were tight-lipped about the identities of the victims upsetting some of the Sikhs who were still waiting for the names of the dead to be declared hours after the shooting.
The gunman began shooting before the start of a Sunday morning service at the Sikh gurdwara of Wisconsin in the suburb of Oak Creek south of Milwaukee.
The gathering of friends and family to comfort others was typical of the small Sikh community in southern Wisconsin where members said everyone either knows other Sikhs directly or indirectly through friends.
"It is like a big family", said Satwant Rehal (62) who has lived in the area since 1974.
There are an estimated 2,500 to 3,000 families of the Sikh religion in the Milwaukee area and two gurdwaras .
The Sikh gurdwara of Wisconsin where the attack took place on Sunday was founded in October 1997 with a community of 20 to 25 families according to its website.
It has 350 to 400 people in its congregation and has grown rapidly, the group says.
The other gurdwara is in Brookfield about 30 miles away in the northern suburbs of Milwaukee.
The two gurdwara serve as community centers for Sikhs as well as houses of worship community members said.
Many holidays, not just those of their own religion, are celebrated there in a festive atmosphere, they said.
This was a typical Sunday morning with people starting to gather by midmorning when the gunman entered the kitchen and opened fire said Jagpal Singh, a local Sikh.
Several people who survived locked themselves in bathrooms Singh said.
Manminder Sethi, a member of the gurdwara, said most members of the congregation were not there at the time of the attack because services did not begin until around noon.
It was a stroke of luck that the gunman entered and went on his rampage for an hour or more before most of the community had shown up.
"If he had chosen noon ... I don't know how much damage that guy would have done", Sethi said.
Two of the victims were believed to be the president of the congregation and a priest, informed Lakhwinder Singh, a member of the congregation.
"It will take a long time to heal. We are hurt very badly ", he said.
An impromptu vigil in downtown Milwaukee was organised where people gathered in a park and held candles.
Sikhs were joined by other members of the community.
Parwinder Virk who was at the vigil said she knew two of the victims.
"A lot of people don't know about our religion. They get it mostly confused with the Muslims. That is where people need to get educated. We are two different peoples and we have different beliefs than Muslims ", she said.
Authorities said they have no motive for the shooting but some of the Sikh community said they thought it was a case of mistaken identity.
Sikhs have sometimes been targets since the September 11 attacks perpetrated by the al Qaeda Islamic militant group.
Jagjit Singh Kaleka, brother of the president of the gurudwara who was one of the victims said he had no idea why the gunman would attack the congregation.
First Published: Aug 06, 2012 10:58 IST