South Florida Sikh Community Reacts to Wisconsin Shooting

Sikh congregation holding candlelight vigil following shooting

Members of the Sikh Congregation of Florida came together at their place of worship for a candlelight vigil Monday night, the day after a mass shooting in Wisconsin.

The names of those who lost their lives in Sunday's shooting were read out loud by candlelight. Prayers were sung for peace at the gurdwara, the Sikh place of worship in Southwest Ranches.

"It's a very sad day," said Damanjeet Kaur Singh as she thought of the six victims who died simply for walking into their Sikh temple In suburban Wisconsin.

"I was in utter disgust, shocked, in disbelief. I couldn't believe someone could go into such a sacred site and just brandish a firearm," Gurtej Singh said.

Security was increased slightly for the event at the Southwest Ranches gurdwara, with a few extra officers there.

On Sunday night, people gathered at the gurdwara to pray for the victims of the massacre outside Milwaukee.

"It's a crime against humanity not just this community. It's a crime against innocent people who could not defend themselves," said Damanjeet Kaur Singh, the joint secretary of the Sikh Congregation of Florida.

In Oak Creek, Wisconsin, the 911 calls came in around 10:25 a.m. Gunshots were fired at the gurdwara. Small children were among those in attendance and a police officer who responded to the scene was shot.

"Our officer, a 20-year veteran, was ambushed and shot multiple times. We expect him to recover," said John Edwards, of the Oak Creek Police Department.

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"Our prayers are with the police officer and his family. He's our hero. He risked his life to save innocent people," said Nam-Simran Kaur, a South Florida member of the Sikh community.

Local authorities in Oak Creek say the gunman shot and wounded Officer Brian Murphy, who returned fire and killed him. They found four people dead inside of the place of worship and two more bodies outside.

The Oak Creek Police Department has called this an act of domestic terrorism.  In the years after 9/11, there have been several incidents in the U.S. where Sikhs have been mistakenly targeted by anti-Muslim groups. Damanjeet's uncle was killed at his Arizona gas station following the September 11th attacks.

"I thought his death created enough awareness about our society, our community, that we are peace-loving people. We believe in equality," said Damanjeet Kaur Singh.

"What the kids deal with today, post-9/11, is fear. They deal with fear, people who fear them and hate them for what happened and associate them with 9/11," said Nam-Simran Kaur.

The monotheistic Sikh religion originated in India 500 years ago.

"We don't believe in hate, we are a very peace-loving people, we welcome everyone, we are part of the American community, we are Americans," said Praveen Jolly, who estimated that there are about 1,200 hundred Sikhs in South Florida.

Members of the local Sikh community say they hope following this tragedy, false perceptions of their faith will be once and for all clarified.

"We all our one. All of our pain is everyone's pain," Kaur said.

Members who observe at a place of worship in Southwest Ranches say they will not let fear win. Their gurdwara will be available day and night for anyone wishing to come in and pray.

Those too innocent to understand the massacre honored newfound heros Monday. Oak Creek Police said that though Murphy was injured, he signaled fellow officers to help people who were shot.

"He's my hero," said a 6-year-old boy, Rasak, at the gurdwara.

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