Kanwardeep Singh Kaleka said those rescued from the Oak Creek, Milwaukee gurdwara described the attacker as a bald, white man, dressed in a white T-shirt and black pants and with a 9/11 tattoo on one arm – which “implies to me that there’s some level of hate crime there.”
Kaleka, a nephew of the gurdwara’s president, told CNN that the gunman started shooting in the parking lot and killed at least one person there. He “then entered into the temple and proceeded to open fire.”
“It seems the few casualties that have been divulged to me have been the equivalent of priests, the holy leaders of our people,” he said.
“My uncle is one of the administrators of the temple. It’s mainly those individuals who have been targeted or shot. Maybe it’s because the ladies were fortunate enough to dodge it out, but so far most of the people I’ve heard have been shot and killed were all turbaned males.”
Kaleka said he was not at the temple at the time of the shooting, but helped police interview witnesses and other congregation members once they were rescued.
Meanwhile, FBI agents had cordoned off a street in Cudahy, a town about five miles from the gurdwara, where it was executing a search warrant related to the shooting.
A team of law enforcement officers, including from the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s department and the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, surrounded a duplex in Cudahy.
Authorities cordoned off the area and the neighbourhood was being evacuated.
Police have searched the suspect’s home, “a short distance” from the temple, a law enforcement source told CNN who added that a single 9mm semi- automatic pistol believed to have been used by the gunman was found at the scene, along with a weapon that belonged to a police officer who was injured.
Some members of the community told local news channels that Sikhs had been targeted in hate crimes following the September 11 attacks.
They said people often falsely identify them as Muslims because of their bearded and turbaned appearance.
According to the Association of Religion Data Archives, there are around 314,000 Sikhs in the United States.
In April, representative Joseph Crowley, Democrat of New York and co-chairman of the Congressional Caucus on Indians and Indian-Americans had sent a letter to attorney general Eric Holder urging that the FBI collect data on hate crimes committed against Sikhs.