A gunman opened fire Sunday morning at a Sikh temple outside of Milwaukee, killing six people and wounding at least three others, including a police officer, before being shot to death, authorities said. The identity of the shooter was not released and his motive was unknown. "We're treating this as a domestic terrorist-type incident," Oak Creek Police Chief John Edwards said at a late afternoon press conference. He did not elaborate.
Federal law enforcement officials told NBC News the suspected gunman had no obvious connection to domestic terror or white supremacist groups and apparently was not on any list of suspected terrorists. The suspect was in his early 40s, and while he had an arrest record, it was for minor offenses, one federal official said.
Greenfield Police Chief Bradley Wentlandt, acting as public information officer at the scene, said the shooting was reported at 10:25 a.m. at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek, south of Milwaukee along Lake Michigan. The shooting took place shortly before Sunday services were to begin. A police officer responding to multiple 911 calls came upon a gunman outside the temple and was shot multiple times, Wentlandt said.
The gunman shot at another officer, who returned fire, striking and killing the him, Edwards said. The wounded officer was taken to a hospital where he was undergoing surgery and was expected so survive, Edwards said. Wentlandt said four bodies were found inside the temple and three, including the suspected gunman, were outside. He did not identify or describe the victims.
Tactical police officers swept through the temple several times and found no signs of additional suspects despite earlier reports of a possible second gunman. Reports of multiple shooters “were likely reports of the same shooter from different perspectives,” Wentlandt said. A law enforcement official told NBC News the gunman was dressed in tactical gear and armed with a single handgun. His name was not released but police say they have a tentative ID and were preparing to search what they believed to be his home. The location was not disclosed. The temple's president, Satwant Kaleka, was among those shot, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported.
Sukhwindar Nagr, of Racine, said he called his brother-in-law's phone and a priest at the temple answered, The Associated Press reported. Nagr said the priest told him that his brother-in-law had been shot, along with three priests. Nagr said the priest also said women and children hid in closets at the temple. A temple committee member, Ven Boba Ri, told the Journal-Sentinel that people inside the temple described the shooter as a white male in his 30s. "We have no idea," he said of the motive. "It's pretty much a hate crime. It's not an insider." Ri told the Journal-Sentinel the gunman walked up to a priest who was standing outside the temple and shot him. Then he went inside and started shooting. People inside the temple used cell phones to call people outside, saying please send help, Ri said.
A man interviewed outside the temple has told local WISN news that the shooting victims may have been members of the temple who came early to help prepare a large community lunch to be held after services. Two children were the first to see the shooter outside the temple and the first to warn temple members what was happening, the witness said. "It was a boy and a girl who were sitting outside. The girl was from the family who was hosting the lunch today. The first shot that the shooter took was just like some firework [the children thought]. "He shot the two people who actually came out of the cab and they were entering the church. These two kids [ran inside and alerted members]."
The witness said he spoke to the children and they described the gunman: "One guy, blue pants, white shirt, white guy, little heavy, who was taking these shots. People who got injured were mostly employees of the church" who'd arrived early to prepare lunch, he said. "There are four sections to the church," the interviewee said. "One for the shoes. One where we worship. One for community lunch where everybody sits and eats food. "There were some families who locked themselves in the bathroom. There were some who locked themselves in the kitchen area."
The man says he does not think the shooting was motivated by hatred of religion: "I don't think this person has anything to do with religion. He just came out and started shooting like all other psychos we have heard about who have done other things in the past."
President Barack Obama was notified of the shooting shortly before 1 p.m. by his Homeland Security adviser, John Brennan. In a statement, he said, "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."
Sources & Images Credit: NBC, WISN and CBS News, Everything in Budget Blog