OAK CREEK, Wisconsin (AP) — A gunman opened fire yesterday and killed six people at a Sikh temple near Milwaukee before he was killed in an exchange of gunfire with one of the first officers to respond to the chaotic scene, authorities said.
The shootings happened before 10:30 am, when witnesses said several dozen people were gathering at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin for a service. Hours of uncertainty followed as police in tactical gear and carrying assault rifles surrounded the temple with armoured vehicles and ambulances.
A crowd gathered outside as officers descended on the temple and some spoke of talking or exchanging text messages with people inside. Some said they had heard there were multiple shooters, others spoke of women and children held hostage.
The first official word from police was that they didn't know how many victims or suspects were involved. But a short time later, after an extensive search of the temple, authorities said they did not believe there was more than one shooter.
Jatin Der Mangat, 38, of Racine, said his uncle Satwant Singh Kaleka, the temple's president, was one of those shot. Mangat didn't know how serious Kaleka's injuries were.
"This is nerve-racking. No one really knows what's going on. Nothing like this has ever happened before," Mangat said. Later, when he learned of the deaths, he said, "It was like the heart just sat down. This shouldn't happen anywhere."
Oak Creek Police John Edwards said officers called to the scene were tending a victim when the suspect ambushed one officer and shot him multiple times. The suspect then shot at another officer, who fired back and killed him.
Earlier, police had said the officer who was shot killed the suspected shooter.
Tactical units went through the building and found four people dead inside the temple and two outside, in addition to the shooter.
Two others were wounded along with the police officer, Edwards said.
All three were being treated at an area trauma centre. Greenfield Police Chief Bradley Wentlandt, who was helping in the investigation, said the police officer had surgery and is expected to survive.
Wentlandt did not identify the suspect or say what might have motivated the shootings. Family members identified some victims.
Sukhwindar Nagr of Racine said he called his brother-in-law's phone and a priest at the temple answered and told him that his brother-in-law had been shot, along with three priests. The priest also said women and children were hiding in temple closets, Nagr said.
Devendar Nagra, 48, of Mount Pleasant, said his sister was in the temple preparing a meal when the shooting started. He said he spoke with her and she escaped injury by hiding in the kitchen, but a priest told him that his brother-in-law, the temple's caretaker, had been shot in the leg.
Nagra spoke to his sister as she was evacuated from the temple to a nearby bowling alley.
Sikhism is a monotheistic faith founded more than 500 years ago in South Asia. It has roughly 27 million followers worldwide. Observant Sikhs do not cut their hair; male followers often cover their heads with turbans -- which are considered sacred -- and refrain from shaving their beards. There are roughly 500,000 Sikhs in the US, according to estimates. The majority worldwide live in India.