At least seven people have been killed after an armed man opened fire at a Sikh temple near Milwaukee, in the US state of Wisconsin, authorities say.
The suspected shooter is believed to be among those killed.
Police were called to the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in the suburb of Oak Creek, where witnesses said several dozen people were gathering for a service on Sunday.
Authorities found four people dead inside the temple and two outside, Bradley Wentlandt, police chief of nearby Greenfield, said.
Sunny Singh, 21, of Milwaukee, said a friend pulled into the temple’s parking lot, heard shots and saw two people fall down.
The friend then saw the shooter reload his weapons and head to the temple’s entrance, Singh said.
The first police officer to arrive at the temple engaged in gunfire outside the building with a man police believe was the shooter, Wentlandt said. The suspect was killed, he said.
Tactical units went through the temple, and authorities do not believe a second shooter was involved, Wentlandt said.
Shot multiple times
It is unclear how many others were wounded. Wentlandt said he had been told the officer who exchanged gunfire with the suspect and another person had been taken to hospitals.
He said the officer was shot multiple times and is in surgery and is expected to survive.
The spokeswoman for the area trauma center said three victims were being treated there, including one who was in surgery.
Jatin Der Mangat, 38, of Racine, the nephew of the temple’s president, Satwant Singh Kaleka, said his uncle was one of those shot, but he didn’t know how serious his injuries were.
He was among those waiting for news when police announced the deaths.
“It was like the heart just sat down,” he said. “This shouldn’t happen anywhere.”
Sukhwindar Nagr, also of Racine, said he called his brother-in-law’s phone and a priest at the temple answered and told him that his brother-in-law had been shot, along with three priests.
The priest also said women and children were hiding in closets in the temple, Nagr said.
Wentlandt did not identify the suspect or say what might have motivated the shootings.
‘Mistaken for Muslims’
Sikhism is a monotheistic faith that was founded in South Asia more than 500 years ago. It has roughly 27 million followers worldwide.
Observant Sikhs do not cut their hair; male followers often cover their heads with turbans – which are considered sacred – and refrain from shaving their beards.
There are roughly 500,000 Sikhs in the US, according to estimates. The majority worldwide live in India.
Sikh rights groups have reported a rise in bias attacks since the September 11, 2001, attacks in the US.
The Washington-based Sikh Coalition has reported more than 700 incidents in the US since then, which advocates blame on anti-Islamic sentiment.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Rajdeep Singh, policy adviser for the US-based Sikh Coalition, said that Sikhs in the US have been subjected to “hate crimes and other forms of discrimination” since the attacks in New York on September 11, 2001.
“It’s not just Sikhs, it’s also Arab Americans, Muslim Americans and south Asian Americans,” Singh said. “Unfortunately the prevailing stereotype these days is that if somebody wears a turban they’re somehow associated with extremism.
“That’s obviously not the case.”