Shooter also presumed dead in what appears to be a hate crime
At least six people have been killed and “dozens” critically injured by one confirmed gunman at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, a gurdwara, in what appeared to be a hate crime in Oak Creek, a quiet suburb of Milwaukee. The White House confirmed that a police officer killed the lone gunman and as of 6:30pm EST “the situation at the Sikh Temple was under control.”
After news of the attack broke around mid-day local time, media reports quoted Lee Biblo, Chief Medical Officer at nearby Froedtert Hospital, saying that three male adults had been brought into the operating room in critical condition, with gunshot wounds to abdomen and the face.
Reports later confirmed that one of the men who arrived in critical condition and who had been operated on was the first police officer to arrive on the scene of the gurdwara following multiple “9-1-1” emergency calls. He was said to have taken down the gunman.
By Sunday evening President Barack Obama issued a statement of condolence, saying, “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.”
He paid tribute to the Sikh community as an important element in the fabric of American society. He said, “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.”
After a conversation with Oak Creek Mayor Steve Scaffidi and trustee of the Sikh Temple Charanjeet Singh Mr. Obama further promised that the White House would provide “whatever support is necessary to the officials who are responding to this tragic shooting and moving forward with an investigation.”
The Indian Embassy in Washington said that it was "seized of the situation and has been in touch with the National Security Council in Washington, D.C." While the Indian Consulate-General in Chicago too has been in "close touch with the local authorities to monitor the situation," the embassy also noted that an official has been deputed to visit the site "to ascertain the situation on-the-spot."
On Twitter the Indian Ambassador Nirupama Rao noted that U.S. Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman “just telephoned me to express heartfelt condolences on the dastardly and horrible Oak Creek killings.” Ms. Rao also said that India’s Consul from Chicago N.J. Gangte “has reached Milwaukee, [and] will meet families of victims and local Mayor to begin with."
Meanwhile, aerial television footage showed at least one body lying in a parking lot outside the gurdwara, even as breaking news indicated that law enforcement officers “returned fire and [a] shooter was put down.” Unconfirmed reports quoted an unnamed member of the Sikh community saying that a Sikh priest visiting from New Delhi was shot at the scene of the crime.
Chief Bradley Wentlandt of the Greenfield, Wisconsin, police said that “multiple rounds were exchanged and the officer was shot multiple times,” and the shooter was “presumed deceased.” Chief Wentlandt however noted that based on information on police scanners there was still no clear evidence that there were multiple perpetrators.
A few hours later Oak Creek Police Chief John Edwards addressed news conference and said that authorities were treating the shooting as a “domestic terrorist-type incident,” that the investigation into which would be headed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Late on Sunday evening the FBI put out statement saying that this “remains an active investigation in its early stages", and while the agency was looking into whether the attack might have been an act of domestic terrorism, “no motive has been determined at this time.”
The agency also said it was working closely with the Oak Creek Police Department and other local and federal agencies to investigate the shooting incident and that the law enforcement community "has been deeply impacted by this incident", particularly by "the officer who was wounded in the line of duty to protect others".
While Mr. Biblo said no women or children had been brought into the hospital yet, Rajwant Singh, Chairman of the Sikh council on Religion and Education in Washington said that women and children may have been among those in the gurdwara at the time of the shooting, generally on site at this time of day to prepare the community meal.
Other local hospitals also reportedly received victims from the shooting incident and a full list of potential victims was not yet available.
One individual who spoke to media outside the gurdwara identified himself as Amardeep Kaleka and said that his father was a Gurdwara official and within the complex at the time of the attack. After seeking refuge in a closet nearby he reportedly said to his son on the phone, “They’re out there.” Mr. Kaleka added that the police informed him that around “26 to 28 people had been shot,” including the head priest who was “bleeding profusely.”
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker issued a statement about the attack in which he said “Our hearts go out to the victims and their families, as we all struggle to comprehend the evil that begets this terrible violence.”
The incident comes scarcely two weeks after at least 12 persons were killed in Aurora, Colorado, at the screening of the latest Batman movie.
After that event both Mr. Obama and his Republican rival in the forthcoming elections, Mitt Romney, were criticised for not bringing up the question of tighter gun control regulation.
In a brief reaction to the shooting Mr. Romney 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.”