Small, tight-knit Wisconsin Sikh community shocked by shooting

August 6, 2012

(Mourners cry outside the scene of a mass shooting in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, August 6, 2012. REUTERS/John Gress)

Dozens of shocked members of a tight-knit community of suburban Milwaukee Sikhs waited for hours in the basement of a neighborhood bowling alley on Sunday to hear whether their loved ones and friends were among the six gunned down at a temple nearby.

Outside, dozens more Sikhs, many men wearing the colorful turbans of their faith, came and went from the site where police said a lone white, male gunman shot dead six people before a police officer killed him. Two other Sikhs were wounded, along with a police officer, who was one of the first to arrive on the scene.

“They’re grieving,” said Zorina Lopac, a woman raised as a Sikh who was allowed into the basement to comfort some of the family. “They’re hurt. And they’re angry.”

Authorities were tight-lipped about the identities of the victims, upsetting some of the Sikhs who were still waiting for the names of the dead hours after the shooting. The gunman began shooting before the start of a Sunday morning service at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in the suburb of Oak Creek, south of Milwaukee.

The gathering of friends and family to comfort others was typical of the small Sikh community in southern Wisconsin, where members said everyone either knows other Sikhs directly or indirectly through friends.

“It is like a big family,” said Satwant Rehal, 62, who has lived in the area since 1974.

There are an estimated 2,500 to 3,000 families of the Sikh religion in the Milwaukee area and two temples. The Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, where the attack took place on Sunday, was founded in October 1997 with a community of 20 to 25 families, according to its website. It has 350 to 400 people in its congregation and has grown rapidly, the group says.

Read the full story by James B. Kelleher and Brendan O’Brien here.
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