U.S. President Barack Obama ordered flags to fly at half-staff at the White House and other federal buildings in honour of the victims of the shooting at a Gurdwara at Oak Creek near Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on Sunday.
Even as he called for “soul-searching” the Indian embassy in Washington confirmed that four out of the six Sikhs killed in the attack were Indian nationals, with one of them being a “recent visitor from India.” Witness accounts on Sunday had suggested that a Sikh priest visiting from New Delhi had been among those shot at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin.
Indicating that the shooting, suspected to have been carried out by army veteran Wade Michael Page, may have been a hate crime, Mr. Obama said to reporters, “If it turns out, as some early reports indicate, that it may have been motivated in some way by the ethnicity of those who were attending the temple, I think the American people immediately recoil against those kinds of attitudes.”
He added that it would in that case be important for Americans to reaffirm that “regardless of what we look like, where we come from, who we worship, we are all one people, and we look after one another and we respect one another.”
Meanwhile Indian Ambassador to the U.S., Nirupama Rao, confirmed that Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna had spoken with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was on a visit to South Africa.
Mr. Krishna was said to have conveyed the “deep distress felt by the government and people of India on the tragic killings of innocent worshippers at the Gurudwara.” Ms. Clinton expressed her sense of shock, sadness and personal condolence at the tragedy, the embassy added.
The embassy has also been in touch with the Chief Minister of Punjab, Parkash Singh Badal, who was said to have spoken directly with Ms. Rao on Monday morning. He was assured that the embassy “would offer all possible support to victims of the Oak Creek killings,” Ms. Rao said, adding that appropriate consular assistance was being provided to those caught up in the events in Wisconsin.
Several other political leaders paid tribute to the Sikh community and pledged their support at this difficult time. Congressman Joe Crowley, Democrat of New York, said, “I join the people of Wisconsin and the entire Sikh-American community in mourning. There is no room in any society for such violence.”
While numerous questions have been raised about broader gun control issues in the aftermath of the attack in Wisconsin and another shooting in Colorado less than three weeks ago, Mr. Obama sidestepped any direct mention of the subject.
In brief remarks to media on the investigation into the Gurdwara incident he said, “There are a lot of elements involved in it, and what I want to do is to bring together law enforcement, community leaders, faith leaders, elected officials of every level to see how we can make continued progress.”
Drawing attention to better enforcement of existing gun laws, Jay Carney, White House Spokesman, said in response to media questions that Mr. Obama would “continue to instruct his administration to take action towards common-sense measures that protect the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens, but make it harder and harder for those who should not have weapons under existing law to obtain them.”
Mr. Carney noted that some progress had been made on those instructions with regards to the U.S. background check system, and Mr. Obama would continue to press forward with that effort.