OAK CREEK, Wis. – An unidentified gunman killed six people at a Sikh temple in suburban Milwaukee on Sunday in a rampage that left terrified congregants hiding in closets and others texting friends outside for help.
The suspect was killed outside the temple in a shootout with police.
Police called the attack an act of domestic terrorism but did not provide any details about the gunman or suggest a possible motive. Oak Creek Police Chief John Edwards did not say whether he specifically targeted the Sikh community.
During a chaotic few hours after the first shots were fired, police in tactical gear and carrying assault rifles surrounded the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin with armored vehicles and ambulances. Witnesses struggled with unrealized fears that several shooters were holding women and children hostage inside.
One of the first officers to respond to frantic 911 calls seeking help was shot several times as he tended to a wounded victim, and was in critical condition along with two other victims Sunday night, authorities said.
We never thought this could happen to our community, said Devendar Nagra, 48, of Mount Pleasant, whose sister escaped injury by hiding as the gunman fired in the temple’s kitchen. We never did anything wrong to anyone.
Edwards said the FBI will lead the investigation because the shootings are being treated as domestic terrorism, or an attack that originated inside the U.S. He said authorities would not release any more about their investigation until today, including the names of those killed.
While the FBI is investigating whether this matter might be an act of domestic terrorism, no motive has been determined at this time, Teresa Carlson, special agent in charge with the agency’s Milwaukee division, said in a Sunday night statement.
It appeared the investigation had moved beyond the temple, as police and federal agents swarmed a neighborhood in nearby Cudahy, evacuating several homes and roping off four blocks around a house where their attention seemed to be focused.
Milwaukee County sheriff’s spokeswoman Fran McLaughlin said the department’s bomb squad was on the scene, although she had no details about why the unit had been called.
The owner of a duplex said authorities were targeting his property. Kurt Weins said authorities had not told him why they’re searching his duplex or whether it’s related to the shooting.
He said he leased the duplex’s upper unit to a man about a month ago. He wouldn’t identify the tenant.
‘Heart sat down’
Jatinder Mangat, 38, of Racine, said his uncle Satwant Singh Kaleka, the temple’s president, was one of those shot at the temple, but he didn’t know the extent of Kaleka’s injuries. When he later learned people had died, Mangat said it was like the heart just sat down.
This shouldn’t happen anywhere, he said.
Edwards said the gunman ambushed one of the first officers to arrive at the temple as the officer, a 20-year veteran, tended to a victim outside. A second officer then exchanged gunfire with the suspect, who was fatally shot. Police had earlier said the officer who was shot killed the suspected shooter.
Tactical units went through the temple and found four people dead inside and two outside, in addition to the shooter.
The three wounded were being treated at an area trauma center. Greenfield Police Chief Bradley Wentlandt, who assisted the investigation, said the police officer had surgery and is expected to survive.
Gurpreet Kaur, 24, of Oak Creek, said her mother and a group of about 14 other women were preparing a meal in the temple kitchen when the gunman entered and started firing. Kaur said her mother felt two bullets fly by her as the group fled to the pantry. Her mother suffered what Kaur thought was shrapnel wound in her foot.
These are people I’ve grown up with, she said. They’re like aunts and uncles to me. To see our community to go through something like this is numbing.
President Obama said Sunday that he and first lady Michelle Obama are deeply saddened by killings in Wisconsin, and he promised his administration will provide whatever support is necessary to those investigating the shooting.
As we mourn this loss which took place at a house of worship, we are reminded how much our country has been enriched by Sikhs, who are a part of our broader American family, the president said in a statement.
Mitt Romney, the likely GOP challenger for the presidency, also expressed his sorrow.
This was a senseless act of violence and a tragedy that should never befall any house of worship, Romney said in a statement.