OAK CREEK, Wis.—Six people were slain at a Sikh temple in suburban Milwaukee Sunday morning before police shot and killed a gunman as congregants, many of them women and children, hid inside, authorities say.
One of the first officers to arrive at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek around 10:25 a.m. was tending to a victim found on the grounds when the gunman "ambushed" him and shot the officer several times, according to Oak Creek Police John Edwards.
Another officer fired at the gunman, killing him, police said. The officers' response "stopped a tragic event that could have been a lot worse," Edwards said, calling the officers "heroic."
The officer and two other men were taken to nearby Froedtert Hospital with critical gunshot wounds: One suffered wounds to the abdomen and chest; another to the extremities and face; the third to the neck.
"Two patients have undergone surgery and one patient is currently undergoing a complex procedure," said Dr. Gary Seabrook, director of surgical services at the hospital.
Edwards said tactical officers swept the temple and surrounding area for hours and believe there was only one shooter, though the investigation continues. Initial reports said there might more than one gunman, and the police chief said officers had to be cautious about entering the building.
He called the shooting a "domestic terrorism-type" case, but he declined to describe the shooter or speculate on a motive. He said authorities had found weapons on the scene, but he would not say how many or what kind.
Police cardoned off a wide perimeter around the light stone building. An officer in a protective vest could be seen leading a golden retriever away from the temple. Other officers could be seen packing tactical gear and assault rifles into car trunks. Still others appeared to remain at the ready.
Jaspreet Singh, 16, of Oak Creek said her mother hid in a pantry with other women when the shooting started. Her mother called Singh's cousin and whispered into the cell phone to stay away from the temple before hurriedly hanging up.
Her mother was brought out safely and taken to a bowling alley across the street that police and emergency relief workers used as a staging area.
"It's really scary," Singh said. "(The temple) is a place that's so peaceful."
Among those wounded was the president of the temple, Satwant Kaleka. His son, Amardeep Kaleka, said he was told his father was in the building when shots rang out. His father walked through the building to confront the shooter and found him in the lobby or near the office, tried to tackle him and was shot, his son said he was told.
The son said a priest who was nearby said his father was hit in the hip or leg and was "bleeding profusely." The son said he continued to struggle to get information about his father, and when asked whether his father was alive, he silently shook his head.
Kaleka also spoke with his mother, who was in another section of the building. He said he asked her if the gunfire came in burst, as from an automatic rifle, or in individual pops. She told him she heard 40 or 50 individual shots.
Kaleka managed to see beauty in the tragedy. For Sikhs, tradition dictates that templegoers be prepared to feed any visitor of any faith at any temple anytime. After the shooting, members of the local Punjabi community joined emergency relief groups and rushed to the bowling alley with traditional dishes.
Congregants ate off tables set up in the bowling alley's basement as they talked to police and groped for credible reports on loved ones.
"It's a horrible event. (The Sikhs) aren't terrorists," Kaleta said. "There's nothing to fear except things that you don't know."
Platoons of police and FBI agents interviewed witnesses in the basement. The atmosphere was intense and confusion common as police negotiated language barriers and conflicting accounts, he said.
Relatives and congregants told of a chaotic scene, with women and children hiding in closets as the gunman opened fire.