Earlier this morning, as worshippers gathered at a Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, a white man in his forties walked up to a priest standing outside and shot him and proceeded into the temple, where he opened fire. As of this writing, Greenfield Police Chief Bradley Wentlandt has confirmed to WISN.com that seven people are dead — four inside the temple, and three outside — including the shooter, who was “put down” after firing at a police officer. The officer in question was himself shot multiple times but is expected to survive.
Three of the people killed are priests. With rumors of a possible second shooter and hostages, the FBI soon arrived on the scene and a SWAT team has conducted various sweeps of the building. (An explosion was heard around 1 p.m., during one such sweep.) “It’s pretty much a hate crime,” one temple member told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. “It’s not an insider.”
Update: Police now say there is no sign of a second shooter, which the Journal-Sentinel had mentioned after it received a tweet from someone inside the temple.
Update 3:45 p.m.: Already, reporters and commenters are linking the attack to anti-Muslim sentiment. As the local Patch site explains:
Sikh Indians, because of religious tradition, wear turbans to cover their uncut hair and have longer beards. They are often mistaken for Muslims and have been the targets of racially-motivated crimes by anti-Muslim people and groups, as evidenced by the epithets shouted at them.
In fact, since 9/11 Sikhs have been the target of more than 700 racially or religiously motivated attacks in the United States, reports the AP.
Update, 4:22 p.m.: President Obama was notified around 1 p.m. by his homeland security adviser, the Indian Embassy in D.C. is on the case, and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker issued the following statement:
While the situation in Oak Creek continues to develop rapidly, we are working with the FBI and local law enforcement. I became aware of the situation late this morning and continue to receive updated briefings.
Our hearts go out to the victims and their families, as we all struggle to comprehend the evil that begets this terrible violence.
At the same time, we are filled with gratitude for our first responders, who show bravery and selflessness as they put aside their own safety to protect our neighbors and friends.
Tonette and I ask everyone to join us in praying for the victims and their families, praying for the safety of our law enforcement and first responder professionals and praying for strength and healing for this entire community and our state.
Update, 5 p.m.: “There is no known threat against Sikh temples in New York City,” NYPD spokesman Paul Browne tells NBC New York — not even the one in Queens, which last year witnessed a sword fight — “however, the coverage is being put in place out of an abundance of caution.”
Update, 5:25 p.m.: The two presidential candidates have released statements, with President Obama lamenting that:
Michelle and I were deeply saddened to learn of the shooting that tragically took so many lives in Wisconsin. At this difficult time, the people of Oak Creek must know that the American people have them in our thoughts and prayers, and our hearts go out to the families and friends of those who were killed and wounded. My Administration will provide whatever support is necessary to the officials who are responding to this tragic shooting and moving forward with an investigation. As we mourn this loss which took place at a house of worship, we are reminded how much our country has been enriched by Sikhs, who are a part of our broader American family.
Presumptive Republican candidate Mitt Romney also bemoaned the tragedy:
Ann and I extend our thoughts and prayers to the victims of today’s shooting in Wisconsin. This was a senseless act of violence and a tragedy that should never befall any house of worship. Our hearts are with the victims, their families, and the entire Oak Creek Sikh community. We join Americans everywhere in mourning those who lost their lives and in prayer for healing in the difficult days ahead.
Update, 5:35 p.m.: Oak Creek police chief John Edwards told assembled reporters that the FBI is treating the shooting “as a domestic terrorist type incident.”
Update, 9:35 p.m.: According to the Los Angeles Times, tattoos on the gunman’s body and “certain biographical details” prompted the FBI to treat the attack as an act of domestic terrorism. No word yet on the nature of those tattoos or the biographical details.
The FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), and local police have stationed themselves outside of a home in Cudahy, a city about five miles north of Oak Creek, that appears to be related to the shooting. WISN reports that at about 8 p.m., agents had guns drawn at the scene while a military-style Humvee, explosives experts, and canine units joined. Agents have evacuated local residents and advised them to stay away for an extended period.
A person who lives in the vicinity told the Journal-Sentinel that police were searching the second floor of a two-story duplex in the Cudahy neighborhood. Another nearby resident said the duplex had been vacant until recently.
Investigators remain at the scene of the shooting at the temple where they will work through the night. Police still believe that only one shooter perpetrated the attack. Said the Oak Creek mayor, “Our city is outraged.”
Update, 10 p.m.: CNN reports that an ATF spokesman said the gunman was a white man in his forties. Officials have also said that the suspect served in the U.S. Army and had “some kind of radical or white supremacist views.” Officials do not yet know if the man had a connection to a radical organization.
Update, 10:38 p.m.: The three injured persons are adult men who suffered gunshot wounds and arrived at a local hospital in critical condition; one was shot in the abdomen and chest, another in the extremities and face, and the third in the neck. Two have undergone surgery and one requires a “complex procedure,” according to the chief medical officer at Froedtert Hospital. One of the wounded is an Oak Creek police officer.