President Barack Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney issued statements saying they were praying for the family and friends of the six people who were killed in the mass shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin on Sunday. The suspected shooter was later killed by a police officer.
"Michelle and I were deeply saddened to learn of the shooting that tragically took so many lives in Wisconsin," Obama said. "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."
Six people were killed and three critically wounded when a gunman opened fire at a Sikh temple in the Milwaukee suburb of Oak Creek on Sunday morning. The suspect, described as heavily tattooed and wearing a white t-shirt and black military BDU pants, later died in an exchange of gunfire with police.
Romney also issued a statement, saying he and his wife, Ann, were praying for the victims of what they called "a senseless act of violence."
"Ann and I extend our thoughts and prayers to the victims," Romney said. "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."
The gunman allegedly also shot one police officer who was helping a victim ten times, according to The Associated Press. The officer survived the shooting. Another officer outside the Sikh Temple later shot the suspected gunman.
Officials believe this was likely the work of a lone gunman.
Lee Biblo, chief medical officer at Froedtert Hospital in Milwaukee, told CNN on Sunday evening that the three injured victims were in critical condition. He said one suffered shots to the abdomen and chest, another suffered shots to the extremities and face and a third suffered injury to the neck.
Sikhs are followers of Sikhism, a religion that originated in the 15th century in the Punjab region of South Asia. Male Sikhs, who cover their hair with a turban and keep beards, are at times mistaken as Muslims.
No connection has been established between the shooter and the temple.
"Nobody's angry here. We're just confused," a Sikh witness told todaystmj4.com. "Was this a random act? Was this directed at us because of the way we look?"
"There's always an apprehension and a sense of fear that this kind of incident will take place anywhere, anytime," CNN quoted Rajwant Singh, chairman of the Sikh Council on Religion and Education, as saying.
"The Sikh American community, like all Americans, is shocked after this attack," said a statement by the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF) and the American Sikh community. "We mourn the loss of those killed today and pray for the swift recovery of those injured, including the veteran police officer who put himself in harms way to protect his community."
Houses of worship, like the gurdwara or the Sikh temple, are places of peace, it said. "Attacks at any of the nation's houses of worship must be condemned by all Americans. This type of crime strikes at the very foundation of religious tolerance, the principle upon which this country was built."
The shooting took place when temple members were reading scriptures and cooking food in preparation for the main Sunday service and community lunch. It came two weeks after a massacre at a Colorado movie theater that left 12 dead and dozens more wounded.
Obama promised that his administration would provide "whatever support is necessary to the officials who are responding to this tragic shooting and moving forward with an investigation."
The president acknowledged the "enriching" presence of Sikhs as American citizens. "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," he said.
There are about 700,000 adherents of the Sikh religion in the United States.
After the incident, Obama spoke on the phone with FBI Director Bob Mueller, White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew, and Homeland Security Advisor John Brennan to receive an update on the shooting, a White House statement said. He also phoned Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, Oak Creek Mayor Steve Scaffidi and trustee of the Sikh Temple Charanjeet Singh "to express his condolences for the lives lost and his concern for those who were injured."