A violent rampage at a Wisconsin Sikh temple Sunday sent ripples of shock, sadness and confusion to members of the Bay Area’s large Sikh community.
According to media reports, Wade Michael Page — a 40-year-old army veteran and known white supremacist — entered the parking lot of a Sikh temple in the town of near Milwaukee at about 10:30 a.m., opening fire outside, then entering the house of worship. At the end of his spree, he had taken the lives of six innocent people before he was killed in a shootout with a police officer.
“It’s difficult to comprehend what has gone on at the Wisconsin gurdwara,” said Harjeet Singh, a director of the Gurdwara Sahib in Fremont. “We aren’t sure if it was a case of mistaken identity. Maybe he thinks we resemble something else? But given his background in the army, he should differentiate between a Sikh and who isn’t a Sikh.
“We don’t know what the motive is behind it,” Singh added.
As shocking as the tragic event was, it doesn’t come as a complete shock to Singh, as Sikhs have long been targets of hate crimes, which escalated after 9/11.
According to Singh, Sikhism is the fifth largest religion in the world but, in the U.S., Sikhs are often mistaken for Muslims because male Sikhs wear turbans and women wear head scarves for religious observance.
“It’s a very peace-loving religion,” Singh said. “We are very sad that this event happened for whatever reason it happened.”
Though hate crimes toward Sikhs still occur in the Bay Area, they are less frequent than in other parts of the country, Singh said.
“On an average we see more tolerance in the Silicon Valley because there’s a denser and wider presence of Sikhs in the Bay Area,” he said.
The Fremont gurdwara is among the largest worship centers for Sikhs in the nation, Singh said. It has a registration of more than 12,000 Sikhs from throughout the Tri-City and surrounding area and sees a traffic of about 2,000 visits a day.
Throughout the entire Bay Area, there are about 40,000 Sikhs in the Bay Area, with many residing in San Jose, Milpitas, Fremont, Union City, Hayward and El Sobrante, according to Sukhdev Singh Bainiwal, one of the directors at the Sikh Gurdwara Temple in San Jose, the largest in North America.
"It's tragic it happened in a religious place. We condemn all shootings, including the one in Colorado. We're peace loving people and we live in harmony with other communities," Bainiwal said.
Bainiwal said that while the community is saddened by the mass shooting, the community isn’t scared.
"I believe it [shooting] will not happen in the Silicon Valley because we have good relations with other faith groups and the local community. We respect all religions and I'm shocked that again this could happen in our community," Bainiwal said.
While Fremont police increased patrol out of precaution Sunday near the Sikh temple, located just off of Mission Boulevard near the Union City border, there haven’t been any acts of violence against local Sikhs.
On Sunday, members of the Fremont gurdwara held a special service for the victims and will continue to hold services and counseling throughout the week.
The gurdwara is also planning a candlelight vigil to be held at 8 p.m. Wednesday in front of the Fremont Hall of Justice.
On Monday afternoon, James Kealey, 64 of Alameda, came to visit the Fremont temple with his wife and cousin. He said one of his co-workers is a member of the gurdwara and wanted to show respect.
“It’s horrible. Unfortunately, in large countries, you have people who do terrible things. I can’t think of why people do what they do,” Kealey said.
Singh invites anyone from the community to visit the Gurdwara Sahib of Fremont. The temple is open 24-hours a day and also features a 24-hour community kitchen. Though guests are not required to follow religious protocol, guests are asked to remove their shoes and cover their heads with scarves before entering the main hall.
For more information about the Gurdwara Sahib of Fremont, visit their website.
For detailed reports on the Wisconsin shooting, visit .
Sheila Sanchez contributed to this report.