At least seven people have been killed and twenty injured as a gunman took over a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. The number includes the gunman, who was killed by police. Officials are treating it as a "domestic terrorist-type incident."
Four of those shot died inside the temple, while the three others (two victims and the gunman) were killed outside. Tactical units scoured the temple and concluded there was no second gunman, a claim police say was based on the fact that they had received several radio calls about the shooter.
Three adults have been hospitalized with gun wounds into their faces, police report. They are all in critical condition.
The first police officer to arrive tried to help a wounded victim outside the temple, but was “ambushed” by the gunman, Oak Creek Police Chief John Edwards said. A second policeman then shot the gunman, killing him. The wounded policeman was taken to hospital and is expected to survive.
Edwards said the incident was being treated as a case of domestic terrorism, with the FBI conducting an investigation. He noted that authorities would not say anything more about the investigation, including the names of the victims, until Monday.
FBI Special Agent in Charge Teresa Carlson said the investigation was in its early stages and that the gunman’s motive hasn’t been determined.
Several hours after the shooting, Wisconsin police evacuated homes in the Milwaukee suburb of Cudahy, located about six miles (or ten kilometers) from the temple in Oak Creek. Four blocks were roped off, and officers searched one house in the area. A Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) spokesperson said warrants were being served at the shooter’s home.
A duplex owner was questioned by the police. He said he had rented the building’s upper unit to a man, but did not give any details.
The area was swarming with police, FBI agents, the county sheriff’s bomb squad and ambulances. A group of heavily armed officers were reportedly looking into the windows of an apartment from a bucket truck.
As many as a hundred people were gathered at the Brookfield Temple for a morning service. The temple was holding a special children's service today, with a featured guest from India. Many potential victims were spared, as the temple was only partially full when the attack began, an hour before a big Sunday service was scheduled to start.
A man opened fire in the temple’s parking lot at around 10:30 am, according to witness reports. He then entered the building and continued his rampage.
The first information from the scene came from the temple's head priest, who was reportedly locked in a restroom with a cell phone. The gunman was described as a white male, bald, with a stocky build.
Some attendees were reportedly able to escape from the temple, though many remained inside. A number of congregants hid in closets, while others texted their friends and relatives outside for help.
Energy officials shut down the building's gas supply as a precautionary measure, witnesses told local news, while police cordoned off the street where the temple is located.
Harinda Kaur, a 22-year old student, was on her way to the temple with her mother when she heard the news. Upon arrival they were sent by police to wait at a nearby parking lot.
“Our priest, he's dead. One of my friends' grandfathers, he's dead,” Kaur bemoaned. “We would never have expected it would have happened to us. It's a very close-knit community. No matter who's hurt, we're all family.”
Journalists were told to keep a safe distance from the area so as to not compromise the rescue operation.
"We would plead with the media at the scene to not broadcast any photo, video of tactical units, officer movement, and particularly no aerial footage of the event as it's ongoing," Greenfield Police Chief Wentlandt said.
Homeland Security advisor John Brennan informed the president of the incident, who then issued a statement.
“Michelle and I were deeply saddened to learn of the shooting that tragically took so many lives in Wisconsin,” Obama stated. “At this difficult time, the people of Oak Creek must know that the American people have them in our thoughts and prayers, and our hearts go out to the families and friends of those who were killed and wounded.”
President Obama also said his administration would provide support to the officials investigating the shooting, and said the tragedy reminded America of how much the country "has been enriched by Sikhs, who are a part of our broader American family.”
Mitt Romney, Obama's presumptive Republican rival for the presidency, issued a similar condolence statement.
“Ann and I extend our thoughts and prayers to the victims of today’s shooting in Wisconsin," the former Massachusetts Governor said. “This was a senseless act of violence and a tragedy that should never befall any house of worship. Our hearts are with the victims, their families, and the entire Oak Creek Sikh community."The temple draws worshippers from as far as Chicago, St. Louis, Missouri, and Cincinnati, Ohio.
New York police said they were increasing security presence around Sikh temples throughout the city as a precautionary measure.
The deadly incident comes just weeks after another fatal shooting in Colorado. Twelve people were killed and 58 were wounded by a lone shooter at a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises, the latest Batman flick, in the city of Aurora.
Hate-crime type attacks on Sikhs have been on the rise in the United States since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, rights groups say. The Washington-based Sikh Coalition has reported over 700 such incidents since 9/11. Advocates say the prejudice is largely fueled by the appearance of observant Sikhs. Devout followers do not cut their hair, and males refrain from shaving and wear turbans, leading some to confuse them with Muslims.