Illinois Sikh Community Center in Wheaton Holds Vigil for Shooting Victims
Sikhs in the Chicago suburbs are closely connected to the tragedy in Oak Creek, Wisc., because they all "have friends and family who know people there," Elmhurst resident says.
As news of the fatal shooting of seven people at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisc., spread across the country, both Sikhs and non-Sikhs in the Chicago suburbs shared their concerns and sadness about the event.
Ravi Singh, spokesman for the Wheaton-based Illinois Sikh Community Center, 2131 Creekside Dr., said the center will hold a vigil at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Aug. 6, to honor the victims of the shooting.
"We're very saddened on what has happened—we're shocked," Singh said. "(But) we're happy to hear that the media has responded. This is always a concern of ours because of our identity ... because of the turbans and uncut hair we wear."
According to a Monday article in the Chicago Sun-Times, the gunman has been identified as a 40-year-old Wade Michael Page, an Army veteran and former leader of a white supremacist heavy metal band.
Singh added the Illinois Sikh Community Center has received "tons" of calls from religious leaders in the Wheaton community and Chicagoland sharing their condolences, "which is amazing," he said.
The Daily Herald reported Sunday that Elmhurst resident Onkar Singh Sangha was scheduled to attend a wedding at the Milwaukee temple next Saturday.
"We're all connected because we have friends and family who know people there," he was quoted as saying in the article.
Sunday's attack felt sadly familiar to Sikhs in Elk Grove, Calif., coming just a year after two Sikh men were gunned down in a case that still is unsolved. The news also comes amid an ongoing campaign by community leaders to convince the FBI to better track hate crimes against Sikhs.
“The Sacramento Sikh Community, like our brother and sisters across the country, is dismayed to learn of the horrible tragedy unfolding in the Milwaukee area today,” Darshan Mundy, a spokesperson for the Sacramento Sikh Temple, said in a statement. “The Sikh community has been the subject of many attacks over the years and since 9-11. At times like this, we must rely on our faith and join as a community to deal with this tragedy.”
"We need protection here, too," said Jaswinder Singh, a committee member at Guru Nanak Sikh Society of Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania. "We’re not feeling safe. ... Everyone is calling and contacting the committee, asking if it's safe to come to the temple."
A 12-year-old member of the Sikh Temple of Iowa in West Des Moines had some keen insight about the shooting.
"It's tragic, and probably a misconception of who we are," Jeevanjot Singh said. "I think it's because of the turbans, and the stereotype that people who wear turbans are Muslim, and after 9/11, people think Muslims are bad."
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, whose parents are practicing Sikhs, posted this message on her Facebook Page:
"It's very sad to see something like this happen to a peaceful place of worship. Our prayers and condolences go out to the families of the innocent victims and the family of the heroic officer in this senseless tragedy," Haley said via her Facebook page.
Malkit Singh Gill, president of the New England Sikh Study Circle in Milford, MA, reflected on how this would affect his community going forward.
“I need to be thinking about what the next step is for the temple. We are hard-working, peace-loving people and it’s sad that one person is trying to put fear in to us,” Gill said.