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Sikh Community Joins Together In Wake Of Shooting

A community in mourning says the Sunday morning shooting in Wisconsin that left at least seven dead is a crime against all people, not just the Sikh community.

Disturbed, shocked and saddened by a shooting in a Wisconsin Sikh Temple on Sunday morning, members of the Sikh community held a vigil Sunday night to honor the victims and survivors of the shooting.

A lone gunman is believed to have entered Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wis. just after 10:30 a.m. and killed six people before being fatally shot by a police officer. One of the wounded includes a police officer who was attending to victims when fired upon, authorities said.

The Sikh community is struggling to find answers in the wake of tragedy, said Ravi Singh Bhalla, a Hoboken councilman.

"Even though this is a difficult time, I'm sure we will come together and this will ultimately make us stronger," Bhalla told about 100 congregants of Sri Guru Singh Sabah Sikh Temple in Glen Rock. "It will never make us afraid to enter a house of worship." 

The community has received the support of the nation not just as Sikhs, but as Americans, he said.

Sikhs have sometimes been misunderstood by the community since 9/11, said Gurinderjit Singh, a Sikh from Paramus and the president of Sikh Youth of America.

"We really don't feel unsafe," he said. "But unfortunately, there have been so many incidents of bias against the Sikh community since 9/11. We are the only people in the world right now who wear turbans, and long beards."

There are about 27 million Sikhs worldwide, with most in India. About 500,000 reside in the U.S.

The Sikh culture and religion is brushed over in the history books and in schools, according to Jaskaran Singh, president of the Garden State Sikh Association.

"There has been a case of mistaken identity. ... Some people think we're Muslim, some consider us Hindus." He expressed hope that more education could dispell the myths and lead to better relations.

For Anitaj Singh, 16, of Paramus, the "senseless" violence brings with it an opportunity to show the world the Sikh faith and the character of its worshipers.

"We have a goal to spread awareness, to show that we're for preventing hate," he said.

Those at the vigil say the Sunday morning shooting is a crime greater than one act against the religion.

"It's not one religion or community that takes the hit," said Harman Singh Nerula, 24, an active member of Sri Guru Singh Sabah. "It's a crime on humanity."

Speakers at the vigil stressed that speculation as to what motivated the attacks be limited until more facts emerged.

Oak Creek police said the shooting was believed to be an act of domestic terrorism, while federal authorities said the investigation is in the early stages and would not classify it as such, CNN reported.

The assailant was described as a heavily-tattooed white male in his 40s, wearing a white t-shirt with black military-style pants. There were conflicting reports as to if there were multiple gunmen, CBS News reported.

Speakers at the vigil were also quick to offer praise and thanks to the wounded officer, a 20-year-veteran of the force whom officials said was shot multiple times but is expected to live.

"It is that type of bravery and courage and audacity," said Nerula, "that we try to emulate in our daily lives."

Police have stepped up patrols and security at the Glen Rock house of worship and will continue to monitor the situation in the coming days.

"We take this very seriously," said Glen Rock Police Capt. Jonathan Miller, who urged community members Sunday night to call if they notice anything out of place. "I want to make sure that the congregation here is safe and comfortable with their prayers."

The Sikh Coalition, the largest Sikh community organization nationwide, and The Garden State Sikh Association, will be looking to find ways to provide financial assistance to the families in Oak Creek, organizers said.

"Obviously, we cannot fill their loss," Jaskaran Singh said. "People are seriously injured in the hospital. At this time all we can do is pray for the people that are in the hospital, to help them survive."

There will be another candlelight vigil at Sri Guru Singh Sabah Sikh Temple next Sunday as well as an invitation to the public at large to join for a meal.

lee resnick August 06, 2012 at 11:24 AM
So sad. Our thoughts and parayers are with you.
Grace August 09, 2012 at 05:59 PM
I have deep compassion for the innocent lives that were lost in this brutal incident. It also proves the necessity of arming Americans so they can stop or defend themselves from violence.
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