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Sikhs Grieve After Deadly Temple Shooting

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Sikhs are in shock and grieving after six members of a local congregation were gunned down before Sunday services. Temple members say they can't understand why someone would target a religion that preaches peace and tolerance.


Many members of the Sikh community near Milwaukee say they're in shock today after yesterday's shooting. As Erin Toner of member station WUWM reports, leaders of the temple where the attack took place say it will take some time for their community to heal.

ERIN TONER, BYLINE: At a press conference this morning, the police chief in Oak Creek turned to a member of the Sikh community who could help pronounce the names of those who were killed.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Sita Singh, 41 years old, male; Ranjit Singh, 49 years old, male; Satwant Singh Kaleka, 62 years old, male; Prakash Singh, male, 39 years old; Paramjit Kaur, 41 years old, female; Suveg Singh Khattra, 84 years old, male.

TONER: Satwant Singh Kaleka, actually 65 years old, was the temple's president. Police say he was wounded while trying to attack the gunman, then ran inside to hide, where he later died. Kanwardeep Kaleka is Satwant's nephew and says his uncle made the temple what it is.

KANWARDEEP KALEKA: He's been president of the temple since '96 and he just - he did so much for our community. And, you know, the fact that he died fighting off the gunman to protect his people is such a testament to what kind of person he is.

TONER: The temple in Oak Creek, one of two large congregations in the Milwaukee area, has about 400 members. Some Sikhs say they began feeling increased prejudice after 9/11 because they're often mistaken for being Muslim. Many followers of Sikhism have long hair and beards and wear turbans. But Kanwardeep Kaleka says until yesterday, he never felt targeted or feared for his safety.

KALEKA: We rarely even lock our doors at the temple. We leave it open to the community pretty much all day, all night. And for someone to come in and do this, it just, you know, do we change the policy of it? I mean, this is a fundamental principle of our faith, is to allow people of all kinds, no matter who they are, into god's home.

TONER: Dr. Kulwant Singh Dhaliwal is a trustee at the temple, who's also related to the president who was killed. Dhaliwal says the congregation remains in a state of shock.

DR. KULWANT SINGH DHALIWAL : Gradually, we have to take care of the bodies, according to Sikh rites, and then gradually counseling, helping family members, each other, we'll try to sort of cope with it.

TONER: Kulwant's wife is Dr. Amrit Dhaliwal, who was on her way to the temple when the shooting occurred around 10:30 in the morning. She says, thankfully, most members of the congregation had not yet arrived. And she says she's still grappling with the fact that someone would target a religion that preaches peace and tolerance.

DR. AMRIT DHALIWAL: We believe that god is - all human beings are equal in this universe. So, I don't know why this thing happened here.

TONER: Members of the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin say they can't imagine installing metal detectors or checking for guns before people walk through the door. But they say they will discuss security soon when they're able to gather again. The FBI says agents hope to finish collecting evidence at the temple by Thursday.

For NPR News, I'm Erin Toner in Milwaukee.

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