Witnesses said the gunman opened fire when he entered the kitchen at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in suburban Milwaukee at about 10:30 a.m. CDT (1530 GMT) as women prepared a Sunday meal, sending worshippers fleeing to escape the barrage, reports The Huff Post.
At approximately 10:25 a.m. local time 911 dispatchers received multiple calls from the temple. An officer who first responded to the scene was treating a victim when he was “ambushed” by the suspected gunman in the parking lot, Oak Creek Police Chief John Edwards said. The veteran officer was shot multiple times and rushed to Milwaukee’s Froedtert Hospital where he underwent surgery.
The suspect was described as a bald, white man, approximately 40 years old, said Thomas Ahern, a spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Authorities did not release his identity.
The suspect was shot and killed by a second officer, and no motive was released.
Six people and the gunman are dead, another three people were wounded, including the first officer to respond to the scene, according to CNN.
Edwards said that “weapons” were recovered at the scene, but would not elaborate. According to Yahoo, two semi-automatic handguns were recovered at the scene, and member of the temple described the gunman as tall male with what appeared to be a “9/11 tattoo.” Officials said that the suspect, who served in the U.S. Army, had many tattoos.
Teresa Carlson, special agent in charge at the FBI’s Milwaukee division, said late Sunday that investigators are still assessing whether this “might be an act of domestic terrorism, no motive has been determined at this time.”
Temple member and U.S. Army Reserve combat medic Jagpal Singh, 29, said people who were at the service when the shooting broke out described to him a scene of chaos and confusion.
Worshippers scrambled to escape the gunfire, but some tragically ran in the wrong direction. Others survived the rampage by locking themselves in bathrooms, he said.
The congregation’s president was among the wounded, his nephew said.
The Sikh religion originated in northern India around 1500 and has about 25 million followers around the world, 700,000 of them in the United States, according to the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund.
Because of their customary beards and turbans, Sikh men are often confused for Hindus or Muslims — and have been the targets of hate crimes since the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington, said Surinder Singh, a spokesman for the Guru Nanak Mission Society of Atlanta.
In September 2001, a Sikh gas station owner in Mesa, Arizona, was shot dead by a man who was said to be seeking revenge on Muslims for the hijacked plane attacks on the United States.
Sunday’s shooting also came just over two weeks after a gunman opened fire at a theater in Aurora, Colorado, killing 12 people and wounding 58. In January 2011, then-congresswomen Gabrielle Giffords was the target of an assassination attempt in which six people were killed and 13 were wounded in Tucson, Arizona.
President Barack Obama today the following statement on the tragic shooting in Wisconsin: “Michelle and I were deeply saddened to learn of the shooting that tragically took so many lives in Wisconsin. 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.”
“My Administration will provide whatever support is necessary to the officials who are responding to this tragic shooting and moving forward with an investigation. 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 the statement.
Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney released a statement, too: “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. We join Americans everywhere in mourning those who lost their lives and in prayer for healing in the difficult days ahead.”
Wis. Gov. Scott Walker said his office is working with the FBI and local law enforcement in its investigation.
“Our hearts go out to the victims and their families as we all struggle to comprehend the evil that begets this terrible violence,” Walker said. “At the same time, we are filled with gratitude for our first responders, who show bravery and selflessness as they put aside their own safety to protect our neighbors and friends.”