WASHINGTON: The Sikh community was in shock and mourning last night after six people were killed in another mass shooting in the US, this time at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, a suburb of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The shooter was also killed.
He has been named by a US defence official as Wade Michael Page, a 40-year-old army veteran. Page was discharged honourably from the army in 1998 after six years of service. He had been a Hawk missile repairman and a ''psychological operations specialist,'' said the official, who asked for anonymity to release the details.
Page was described as 183 centimetres tall, light skinned, bald, and with a ''9-11'' tattoo. He appeared to target turbaned men as he moved through the building yesterday and fired without speaking, temple member Kanwardeep Singh Kaleka told CNN.
A spokesman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Thomas Ahern, said FBI agents said they were treating the shootings as a ''domestic terrorism-type incident''.
''There's a lot of sorrow, a lot of confusion'' in the Sikh community, said Swarnjit Arora, 71, who met with members of the congregation late yesterday.
Congregation members who had been preparing for the Sunday service ran for shelter and barricaded themselves in bathrooms and prayer halls, where they made desperate phone calls and sent anguished texts pleading for help. Witnesses described a scene of chaos and carnage.
If Page had arrived an hour later, when the service was to begin, as many as 300 people would have been present, Mr Arora said.
About 1500 Sikh families live in the area and attend two temples, the other one in Brookfield, he said.
Jatinder Mangat, 40, who was on his way to the temple when he heard reports about the shooting, said he had tried to call his uncle, the temple's president, but reached the head priest, Gurmail Singh, instead.
''He was crying. Everyone was screaming,'' Mr Mangat said. ''He said that my uncle was shot and was lying on the floor.''
Mr Singh, he said, had barricaded himself inside a bathroom with four other people, including two children.
Japal Singh, a combat medic in the US army reserve, said he spoke to a man who had been dropping off his father at the temple when he saw Page kill two people in the carpark.
''Then he went down inside the temple and then went into the room where the holy scripture is kept and basically shot more people there,'' Mr Singh said. ''People didn't know what was going on.''
Four of the dead were found inside the temple and three outside, police said. Three people were wounded, including a police officer.
Page ambushed the first police officer to arrive at the scene at 10.25am and shot him several times. He was in a critical condition, but was expected to survive.
A second officer arrived and shot Page dead, said John Edwards, chief of the Oak Creek Police Department.
Sikhs using social media said they believed the temple might have been targeted in the mistaken belief the Sikhs were Afghan Muslims.
In April more than 90 members of Congress had asked the FBI to monitor hate crimes directed at Sikh adherents.
But federal officials cautioned against thinking that a concrete link to a domestic terrorism group or hate group had been established. ''We don't know much about the motive at this point,'' a law enforcement official said.
Authorities later searched a home in nearby Cudahy, sealing off four blocks in a residential neighbourhood.
Jasmine Singh, 16, told how her mother hid in the temple's pantry for two hours until police gave the all-clear.
''She's in shock, she can't speak,'' Jasmine, 16, said. ''We're just trying to calm her down and take her home.''
Harinder Kaur, a 22-year-old student, was getting ready to go to the temple with her mother when she heard the news. They rushed to the temple but were stopped by a police cordon and were sent to wait in a nearby carpark.
''Our priest, he's dead. One of my friends' grandfathers, he's dead,'' she said. ''We would never have expected it would have happened to us. It's a very close-knit community. No matter who's hurt, we're all family.''
SWAT teams conducted ''sweeps'' of the site as an estimated 100 people remained inside. Police evacuated a three-block stretch of suburban housing as they moved in on the home of Page.
The President, Barack Obama, said he and the first lady were ''deeply saddened'' by the shooting. Mr Obama told the people of Oak Creek ''the American people have them in our thoughts and prayers''. He stressed ''how much our country has been enriched by Sikhs'', whom he described as ''part of our broader American family''.
''Our hearts go out to the families and friends of those who were killed and wounded.''
with The New York Times, Bloomberg and agencies