Amardeep Kaleka, whose father is Satwant Kaleka, the president of the temple who was shot, prays in a parking lot while waiting to hear information.
At least seven people were killed, including one shooter, just after 10 a.m. Sunday at the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, police said.
Four of the dead were inside the temple at 7512 S. Howell Ave. and three of the dead, including a shooter, were outside the temple.
A police SWAT team entered the building before noon and brought uninjured people out of the building, 7512 S. Howell Ave.
They started removing injured people from the temple’s prayer room.
SWAT team members were still sweeping the building about 1 p.m. and an explosion was heard from the building at that time. It was unclear what the explosion was.
About six gunshots were heard at 2:30 p.m. in the area. The shots appeared to be coming from the temple.
The first officer on the scene Sunday morning encountered an active shooter and exchanged fire with him, according to Greenfield Police Chief Bradley Wentlandt who briefed media on the scene.
The shooter went down and is believed to be dead, said Wentlandt. He said authorities had no evidence of a second shooter.
Wentlandt said the officer was hit multiple times, but is expected to survive. He said the officer was a 20-year veteran and “an extremely accomplished tactical officer.” He was taken to Froedtert Hospital in Wauwatosa where he was in surgery just before 2 p.m.
White House officials said President Barack Obama was notified of the shootings shortly before 1 p.m. by John Brennan, his Homeland Security adviser. The president continues to receive updates.
Temple president among those shot
Among those who were shot was the president of the temple, Satwant Kaleka, who was taken to Froedtert Hospital.
Gurmit Kaleka, a nephew of Satwant Kaleka, was at the hospital and said he was in surgery. He said Satwant is 65 years old. He is married with two grown sons. One is a former MPD officer. Satwant Kaleka has been president of the church since about 1996. He has never felt threatened or unsafe in any way, Gurmit Kaleka said.
Deepinder Dhaliwal said Satwant Kaleka, his brother in law, was shot in the back.
Dhaliwal said his sister, the president’s wife, called him while hiding inside the building with a few other women.
Darshan Dhaliwal, who identified himself as a leader at the temple, said between 20 and 25 women who were cooking a lunch in the basement for after the service and between five to 10 children had been able to leave the temple at about 1 p.m. Dhaliwal said they heard the gunshots and hid in closets for more than an hour before escaping. Dhaliwal said the temple had not been the subject of any threats or graffiti recently.
“This is insanity,” he said.
Jim Haase, a retired firefighter lives on Manitoba Court near the temple. He said that he tended to the wounds of a high priest. He said he heard gunfire and his dog, Paris, “was just going nuts.”
“I tended to his wounds,” he said. “He was shot right through the side”
“I called the emergency number but I couldn’t get through, so I called the non-emergency number of Oak Creek Fire Department and got their med unit to come over.”
Haase said the priest was in shock, but conscious.
“I laid him down,” he said. “I was with him for about 10 minutes. I tended to his wounds, then they took him away.”
Dick Katschke, a spokesman for the Medical College of Wisconsin, said three adult males were being treated at Froedtert Hospital in Wauwatosa. One of the three was undergoing surgery in the intensive care ward. Another is in an operating room. And the third is being treated in the emergency room, Katschke said.
All three were being treated for gunshot wounds. All are in critical condition, according to Froedtert.
Shooting came as many arrived for 11:30 a.m. service
People were in the temple as early as 6:30 a.m. Sunday and many more were arriving for a service that was to begin about 11:30 a.m.
There were reports that children were taken away from the area of the building where the shooting took place after shots were fired.
Someone who sent a text message to a Journal Sentinel reporter shortly before noon said that there were two shooters with children possibly as hostages.
And the head priest was locked inside a restroom with a cell phone and that there were as many as 20 to 30 victims.
One of the temple’s committee members, Ven Boba Ri, said that based on communication with people inside the temple, the shooter was a white male in his 30s.
“We have no idea,” he said of the motive. “It’s pretty much a hate crime. It’s not an insider.”
According to Ri, the man started shooting after he walked up to a priest who was standing outside, and shot him.
Then he went inside and started shooting.
People inside the temple were using cell phones to call people outside, saying please send help, Ri said.
“It’s sad, I don’t know how to describe it,” said Ri, who has been fielding calls all morning from around the world, including India.
“Sikhism is such a peaceful religion. We have suffered for generations, in India and even here.”
“We’re all the same,” said temple member Jaswinder Schandock. “Everybody has the same blood.”
Groups of temple members were gathered, on cell phones, conferring in small groups and watching from afar. A member of the Sikh Temple in Brookfield said three of those who were killed are priests. Authorities have not identified any of those who died.
Numerous police agencies had responded to scene to assist Oak Creek, including the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
At least two dozen ambulances responded, including from Oak Creek, Caledonia, North Shore Fire, Greenfield and West Allis. Those ambulances had moved to the temple about 12:40 p.m.
As of about 3:45 p.m., the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner’s Office said it had not been called to the scene.
The Joint Terrorism Task Force, a collection of federal, state and local law enforcement, was on the scene of the shooting by 1 p.m. Those task forces, several of which are situated around the country, typically work quietly to prevent terrorism attacks but also respond to mass shootings to help coordinate law enforcement. Sources said it was too early to say if this will be considered an act of terrorism.
U.S. Attorney James Santelle said he expected federal law enforcement will play a role in the investigation. Exactly what that role is remains to be seen, Santelle said.
“I am clearly anticipating that there will be federal investigative support,” Santelle said.
The FBI and U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives both confirmed that their agents were on the scene of shooting and assisting local law enforcement. The agencies declined comment, saying Oak Creek police are the primary point of contact. The ATF did say that the gun or guns used in the shooting will be traced to the original seller.
The Wisconsin Department of Justice also was said to be sending agents to assist in the investigation.
Police dispatched to Brookfield temple as precaution
Meanwhile, Brookfield police officers were dispatched to the Sikh Temple at 3675 N. Calhoun Road as a precaution in the aftermath of the Oak Creek shooting.
At least three squads were at the temple in Waukesha County and they blocked off roads leading to the building.
About 50 people were at the Brookfield temple for a morning service and many of them went outside after they learned of the shooting in Oak Creek.
Gurcharan Grewal, president of the Sikh Religious Society of Wisconsin told a Journal Sentinel reporter: “People are really shocked. There was a little bit of panic. But everything is holding together.”
He said U.S. Senate candidate Tommy Thompson was at the Brookfield location to address the congregation when the news of the shooting from Oak Creek came in.
Grewal said he has heard no theories on the shooter’s motivation.
“Nobody knows,” he said. “There was no indication, no warning, nothing. I think it was just some isolated hate crime or something. “
Grewal said he thought 40 or 50 people were in the temple, not the 400 or so who might have been present after 11:30 a.m.
Among those shot, he said, were two priests. He did not know their conditions.
He spoke with another priest, Gurmail Singh, who was locked in a closet, and was not injured.
More than 20 million people worldwide follow the Sikh religion, established about 500 years ago in the Punjab region of India. Devout male followers must wear long beards and their hair in a turban, and in America are sometimes mistaken for Muslims; the two religions are not affiliated.
In the days after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, at least four acts of violence against Sikhs occurred in the Milwaukee area, , said Swarnjit S. Arora, a founder of the local Sikh Religious Society said in 2002. Two taxis owned by Sikh drivers were vandalized, and two Sikh men were assaulted, said Arora. The crimes were not widely reported by the news media because they were overshadowed by dramatic events across the nation, he said.
About 3,000 Sikh families live in southeastern Wisconsin. A tight-knit community, they meet for religious services and to share meals at the Religious Society in Brookfield and the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, in Oak Creek, which opened in 2007. .
The Oak Creek scene was similar to the situation in 2005, when a gunman killed seven people and himself at a church meeting in a Brookfield hotel.
Terry Ratzmann, 44, opened fire March 12, 2005, during a worship service of the Living Church of God at the Sheraton hotel in Brookfield.
Journal Sentinel staff writers Tom Daykin, John Diedrich, Bruce Vielmetti, Don Walker, James B. Nelson, Georgia Pabst, Paul Gores, Raquel Rutledge and Craig Nickels contributed to this report.
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- Wisconsin Shooting: Several People Injured After Shots Fired At Sikh Temple (huffingtonpost.com)
- Police: Sikh temple gunman presumed dead (rawstory.com)
- State Rep. Josh Zepnick says couple thousand Sikhs in Milwaukee (fox6now.com)
- Shooting at Sikh Temple in Wisconsin (dailykos.com)