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CNN BREAKING NEWS
Shooting Rampage in Sikh Temple in Wisconsin; ; News Information on Suspect, Search of His Property. Temple Shooting is Domestic Terrorism; Understanding the Sikh Religion
Aired August 5, 2012 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Don Lemon. I'd like to welcome our viewers from around the world.
ROB MARCIANO, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Rob Marciano. You are in THE CNN NEWSROOM. Again, welcome to our international viewers.
LEMON: Absolutely. We are staying on top of breaking news right now from a suburb of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
We want to fill you in now on exactly what we know. And here's what it is. Seven people are dead at this house of worship. It's a temple used by the Sikh community in the city of Oak Creek, Wisconsin. Six of them were shot dead by a gunman who opened fire during a religious service inside.
The gunman is also dead, according to police, shot by a responding police officer. That police officer was wounded. Two other people are also wounded.
Police in Oak Creek talked to reporters a few minutes ago. They didn't add much more information except to say that they were treating the shooting as a, quote, "domestic terrorist-type incident," a quote. "A domestic terrorist-type incident."
They are also confident the gunman was operating alone. Police don't plan to release more official information until tomorrow morning.
And here is what Oak Creek police had to say a few minutes ago. Listen.
CHIEF JOHN EDWARDS, OAK CREEK, WISCONSIN POLICE DEPT.: And what we had happen today was an individual. Our officers responded to a 911 call. And because of the heroic actions of our officers they stopped it being worse than it could have been.
Our officers responded to the scene, did find a victim and were dealing with that individual when our officer, a 20-year veteran was ambushed, shot multiple times. He is currently in the hospital undergoing surgery. We expect him to recover. Another officer who was on scene was engaged by the suspect. Our officer did engage that individual and that individual is deceased from the actions that our officer took. It stopped a tragic event that could have been a lot worse. There was a service going on with many people at that location.
What we've done now is it's taken most of the day to clear that area, the church itself and the surrounding area because of conflicting reports that we got about how many people may be involved. We just were able to clear it.
What we are going to be doing, we have numerous individuals that we have that are deceased at this point. I don't have total numbers for you right now. We are working on that. We are going in there shortly.
The FBI will be handling the criminal investigation on this incident. We looked at it, the scope of it and what the implications might be. We are treating this as a domestic terrorist-type incident. And therefore, the FBI has the resources need to help investigate that.
The ATF is involved with this, along with the Milwaukee (ph) Police Department is assisting us. The number you were given out earlier is for family or friends who want information. We ask only family or friends call that number, then we can forward it through a liaison we have with the Sikh community as far as the status of those individuals.
We do not want the media or anyone else calling that number. That is just for family and friends trying to find out the status of those individuals.
At this point, we are pretty much doing an investigation that's going to be starting shortly. We're going to be doing another press conference, probably 10:00 a.m. tomorrow morning at the Old Creek Police Department. Right now, we are just at the beginning stages of this investigation and wrapping up the inner perimeter and the initial call that we took and just clearing that. So the investigation starts now.
At this point, I'm not going to give out demographics of who the individuals may be as far as ages and genders. We don't have all that information. I'm not releasing it until people are notified. As far as the police officer, we know he has family that still needs to be notified, so we're not giving his information out either.
REPORTER: How many injured, Chief?
EDWARDS: As far as we know, there are multiple injured. I believe there were two additional.
REPORTER: So, what is that in total?
EDWARDS: Total -- we have I believe, we have seven deceased and three injured, including our officer.
REPORTER: How many?
EDWARDS: Seven deceased, three injured, including our officer.
REPORTER: What do you know about the suspect?
EDWARDS: Right now, I don't have any information on the suspect. That is being checked into and is part of the criminal investigation. So, right now, I won't be giving you anything about that right now.
REPORTER: What about a weapon?
REPORTER: Domestic terrorism means, what about it? What does that mean?
EDWARDS: Domestic terrorism is somebody who's doing some active terrorism within the confines of the United States. It's not from another country or anything like that. It's within the United States.
REPORTER: Have you recovered a weapon?
EDWARDS: As far as a weapon, there are weapons on scene. That hasn't been covered yet. The evidence team hasn't gone in. There are weapons involved that will be recovered.
REPORTER: Is there more than one gun?
EDWARDS: I don't know that.
REPORTER: Will the area be open to the public and the devotees?
EDWARDS: As far as a timeline, the initial call came in somewhere right around 10:30. After 10:00, I don't have the exact time. The officers were on the radio giving the information they were treating someone. We had another officer call out that he had an active shooter. And at that point, that's when other officers responded and other agencies were called in.
So, it happened within a very short period of time like most of the instances when they happen, that's how they happen. It takes place very quickly.
REPORTER: Any acts of heroism from people who were inside the temple?
EDWARDS: That I don't have. I'm sure there were. There were a lot of people interviewed. I don't know the results of those interviews. But I'm sure there were.
REPORTER: How many people are still in the temple?
EDWARDS: There is nobody left in that temple. The building has been cleared and everybody has been removed.
REPORTER: When will the temple be available for devotees?
EDWARDS: I'm sorry, ma'am?
REPORTER: When will the temple be available for devotees to go for the prayers?
EDWARDS: That, I don't have that information. That is a crime scene. And we will be holding it until we have it processed. I don't have that information.
REPORTER: What else can you say about the suspect being engaged? What exactly?
EDWARDS: When he engaged our officer and he ended up shooting him, another officer was on scene, he engaged that officer shooting him. Our officer returned fire killing the suspect.
REPORTER: What was the suspect wearing?
EDWARDS: I have no idea.
REPORTER: Any indication it was more than one shooter?
EDWARDS: Right now, we had multiple reports of different things. That's why it's still an active scene. I can't give you the total information on that. We believe there was one. But I can't be sure. There is still an active scene with SWAT tactical teams in there right now.
REPORTER: Can you confirm the number of children involved --
EDWARDS: I can't confirm. It was a church service. I'm sure there were people from all different age groups in that building at the time.
REPORTER: Can you describe why it took a while for your officers to be able to move in?
LEMON: All right. That was the police press conference. It happened just a short time ago. All of that played out live here on CNN. There was a live press conference as well from the hospital. You'll hear that in moments -- Rob.
MARCIANO: But, first, you know, we've been hearing stories all day long about people that have been on the scene at the time of the shooting. Some of whom have had family members who were shot.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At approximately 11:18, received a call from emergency responders at the scene in Oak Creek. We mobilized the appropriate physicians, nurses and operating personnel to care for the victims. This is consistent with the many drills we run to be prepared for mass casualty situations as a level one trauma center. These drills are done in conjunction and collaboration with our local emergency response teams.
Only three victims were brought to Frodtert Hospital. They are all adult males and they are all currently in critical condition. They are all victims of gunshot wounds. One suffered injuries to the abdomen and chest. One suffered injuries to the extremities and face. And one suffered injuries to the neck.
Patients are all currently being treated for these injuries. Two patients have undergone surgery, and one patient is currently undergoing a complex procedure. One of the victims is an Oak Creek police officer.
As a level one trauma center caring for three patients with gunshot wounds at a single point in time is unfortunately not uncommon.
We will be providing an update at 8:30 p.m.
Again, our thoughts and prayers are with all those who were affected by this tragic situation. Thank you very much.
LEMON: Absolutely a tragic situation. I think the exact words, terrible.
MARCIANO: Three victims are being treated at that hospital. At one point this morning, we thought there were many more than that. So, if there's any bright spot out of this, I suppose that more weren't hurt. What's certainly could have been the case.
LEMON: Absolutely. Much more details are unfolding about what exactly happened in the temple in Wisconsin. Obviously, a tragic day for the country, but especially for the people directly involved. And as I have said here, can you imagine being at a house of worship and having this unfold, being confronted by a gunman when you have your children there right in front of you? Just a terrible incident.
CNN's Ted Rowlands on the scene for us. Ted is going to have a live report coming up in CNN. CNN is going to be live from the scene of this temple shooting in just moments. Don't go anywhere.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
MARCIANO: We continue our coverage of the shooting inside the temple outside of Milwaukee.
You know, Don, all afternoon long, we've been hearing stories from family members of some of the victims that were inside that temple, some of whom were actually shot. Listen to some of this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He told me about it. There is an initial state of you don't believe it. And then you call your relatives and find out what's going on. And my uncle was shot and supposedly is at the hospital now. We are trying to figure out which hospital.
My aunt who was trapped in a closet calling, trying to communicate out, but she, I guess, recently is out. She is in the custody of police. We are waiting to hear and hope everything happens for the best and they capture these guys.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MARCIANO: So much fear, confusion following that situation. We rely so heavily on our affiliate reporters and their video.
LEMON: They were there on the scene. That's what they cover every single day, of course. Yes, we rely on them.
MARCIANO: And now, Ted Rowlands on the scene. And earlier we were talking to Ted.
And you were describing not what you are now, but about a mile away, that police were in a grid formation, looking to do some sort of a sweep. What has transpired since then?
TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Rob and Don. I just left that area. It's about a half mile now that I traveled away from here. And it's a wooded area where SWAT team members with K-9 units, with guns drawn, are traversing the back portion of where the temple is, extending back about, let me say, about a half mile. And it is a heavily wooded area.
They also went into the backyard of a specific home which was adjacent to this wooded area. Whether or not this backyard has anything to do with the investigation specifically or not, or if they just included it in their grid search. But they didn't go into every backyard.
So, I tried to ask questions out at the scene and they would not answer them. We'll follow up and try to figure out exactly what they are doing.
But the bottom line here is it's an active investigation. They are getting help from multiple agencies, including the federal government. And they are actively looking for clues and actively pursuing, obviously the shooter and where he was -- is from, his motivation and the rest of it.
One of the people that can help shed us -- shed some light on this is a Kanwardeep Kaleka, who has been working as an interpreter for, and I believe we just heard a little from him earlier. But he's been working as an interpreter for the police, talking to witnesses. One of the things that is still within the community, a bit of a mystery is how many shooters.
Now, the police believe, the investigators believe only one shooter took place here. You talked to the witnesses and you say you're still not fully convinced. There may be -- there may be two.
What's your gut? Do you think there's just one shooter?
KANWARDEEP SINGH KALEKA, TEMPLE MEMBER: My gut is there is probably just one. There are some accounts that conflict in a way that maybe there's two in terms of hearing multiple gunshots. So, they heard gunshots in the immediate vicinity, and it's a question of whether it's an echo or gunshots of policemen or another gunman.
ROWLANDS: Got you.
And now, you did hear witness testimony on the actual shooter. You're saying that according to witnesses, he had a 9/11 tattoo, he was a Caucasian male. What else can you tell us about this witness that you heard from witnesses? The shooter?
KALEKA: I mean, basically, he was fairly tall, around six foot. He was wearing a white t-shirt and black pants, in terms of the actual description. Supposedly he might have been driving a red car. We could get a license plate on it.
But, yes, that's pretty much what we understand up to this point.
ROWLANDS: At the scene for us, tell us about the layout of the temple and what witnesses told new terms of where the shooting took place. This was about an hour before most of the people would be arriving for the 11:30 service. Tell us what you can in terms of what you heard and what happened.
KALEKA: So, essentially the temple is located just off the street. There is a large parking lot once you drive in a little bit. And one of the gunman opened fire right at the entrance of the parking lot, killing at least one, if not two people there, the gunman proceeded to enter.
And I'm not sure where the gunshots were fired at that point. It might have been in this area just outside, what we call Jarbara (ph) Hall, or the religious room, where we keep our holy book and where people pray.
And people from the kitchen heard it. And they fled.
And then I guess he went into the holy room and opened fire on some individuals there, injuring multiple, mainly turbaned individuals.
Beyond that, he did open fire as he went to another area off to the side where the kitchen area was, where a lot of the ladies were cooking the food, we feed the congregation, and opened fire there and they were fortunately able to duck down and dodge it. So there's really only minor injuries.
But for the most part, it was most of the stuff done in front of the holy room and in the holy room.
ROWLANDS: You say that the possible targets here were turbaned individuals. You're talking about male victims and you say these were holy men, a few priests, were in your estimation through what you heard from witnesses targeted?
KALEKA: Yes. Well, it seems the few casualties that have been divulged to me have been the equivalent of priests, the holy leaders of our temple, as well as -- my uncle is one of them, who's one of the administrators of the temple. So, it's mainly those individuals who have been targeted or shot. And, yes -- I mean, 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.
ROWLANDS: Right now, a number of people are in an adjacent bowling alley where they are being held, if you will, for lack of a better term, until they can get a full debriefing with police officers. You're helping in that endeavor.
Give us a sense of the emotion here. I mean, this, by all accounts, from people I talked to is a very, very close-knit group. Six of your own have been confirmed dead. Tell us about what everybody is going through.
KALEKA: I mean, there's obviously a lot of shock involved, and people are very disturbed as to what's happened. It's very solemn. Everyone is thinking of their loved ones who have been hurt. And, you know, there is a lot of prayer going on. People are supporting each other and other people have come in and brought food to help feed each other. We've been here a number of hours now.
And I think it's their community, so just showing love and appreciation and trying to get each other through this. And especially until we figure out what's going on with a lot of these people who have been injured and killed.
We don't know who specifically is killed. We are told it's seven people. I've had my ear to the grindstone or whatever. Essentially, people are not divulging where everyone is in terms of which hospitals.
We're not having access, and who specifically has died. We were given a number of seven. People are trying to figure out who that is.
ROWLANDS: The seven is, including the shooter, according to authorities. This is common in cases like this, obviously, where there is a disconnect with information. There are still -- I JUST talked to a gentleman who is convinced there were three, four maybe five, six shooters.
Is your community having a difficult time with this lack of communication?
KALEKA: Yes, to some degree. When you love someone, you just want to know what's going on. When you're sort of hit with this type of shock, you're trying to gather yourself and trying to understand what's going on around you. And, you know, the lack of information makes it a lot harder. We sort of have to delay the ability to get any sort of closure or understanding of the situation itself. So --
ROWLANDS: This is being investigated as an act of domestic terrorism. Is there any doubt after talking to witnesses that this was an individual who had no ties to the temple?
KALEKA: As far as -- yes, everyone we know, this individual has not been seen in the temple before or no one really knows who he is. He's completely unidentified in terms of name or anything.
So, you know, in my opinion, it's a hate crime. It seems like this person has this 9/11 tattoo. Obviously, has probably some animosity about those incidents. And, you know, ignorantly takes it out on a community that he thinks are responsible, which is ludicrous in every way.
I mean, not only are we Sikh, we're not Muslims. But Muslims themselves are never responsible as a group for that. So --
ROWLANDS: Talk about the Sikh religion, quickly. Talking about a religion based on peace and unity and family and close-knit environments.
KALEKA: Yes, absolutely. That is what it's founded on, the conflict between Muslims and Hindus. It was an open-minded thing. You know, every one of all faiths are allowed in the temple because God is not to judge anyone based on their religion, caste, creed, gender. And that's sort of why we keep the doors open for, you know, any one of any type.
It's really unfortunate someone took advantage of this, you know, and the love we try to give out. We feed people for free out of the loving you know, the love that God has blessed us with. And it's disgusting, to say the least, that people would do this.
LEMON: Hey, Ted --
ROWLANDS: Kanwardeep Kaleka -- yes, go ahead, Don.
LEMON: Ted, I think it's very well put. I want to ask. This is the most information we have gotten so far, you know, barring the information on the investigation from police officers.
Can you police ask him -- he talked about the shooter. He said the shooter wasn't known. He clearly sees this as an act of hate, as he said. The shooter wasn't known. He said he was wearing a white t- shirt and black pants.
What can you tell us if anything more about the shooter and what he looked like, and what information we know about him in that community, if anything?
ROWLANDS: Yes, what more can you tell us about the shooter? We heard he was bald. You said that is one thing no witness talked about color of hair.
Tell us everything you do know from what you heard through witness accounts.
KALEKA: I think essentially that -- I think pretty much everything in terms of basic description, the man coming in, I'm told, you know, in terms of the gun he used, it was an assault rifle, or something of that nature, that I can't confirm. But, you know, obviously, this person had no regard to human life and --
ROWLANDS: Did any of the witnesses say that he said anything? Was there anything audible? Did he yell something, say anything?
KALEKA: I mean, as far as I know, basically the congregation just acknowledges the sound of gunshots, you know? Some just don't speak English. I don't know if they would be able to. There's no account of him saying anything coming in and actually saying anything. It just seems he came in shooting, essentially.
LEMON: Have him talk more about what the shooter was wearing, what he said, Ted.
ROWLANDS: He had a tattoo about -- 9/11 tattoo. So, he would have had to have short-sleeved t-shirt?
KALEKA: A t-shirt, right.
ROWLANDS: Don was asking what he was wearing. A short-sleeved t- shirt or a tank top?
KALEKA: Yes. He was wearing a short-sleeved t-shirt as well as black pants in terms of his attire. That's all I've been really told in terms of the way he looked. You know, six foot tall wearing a white t-shirt, black pants. Yes, and the bald head.
Well, yes, Don, obviously, we're going to get more information in the coming days. But this is the most detailed we've gotten from Kanwardeep Kaleka. And we'll be in contact with him and others as this moves forward. But at this point, looks like one shooter, an individual possibly with a 9/11 tattoo and solely responsible, looks like according to authorities.
LEMON: Great information. Thank you. Our thoughts and prayers are with Mr. Kaleka, and everyone involved in this.
The reason I wanted to hone in on what he was wearing because he said white t-shirt, black pants. If he was wearing a tank top they would be able to see if indeed he is wearing a 9/11 tattoo as has been said by this particular person who has spoken to people who were inside.
Good information. Thank you, Ted Rowlands.
MARCIANO: Ted Rowlands on the ground there, reporters on the ground, we've got reporters in our CNN bureaus throughout the country working the phones, as well. Deb Feyerick has some new information. We're going to get to her when we come back.
LEMON: I want to get back now to our continuing coverage of this temple shooting in Wisconsin.
Straight now to CNN's Deb Feyerick with new information on the suspect and a search of his property.
Deb, what do you have? DEB FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Don and Rob, what I can tell you is that FBI and law enforcement identified the gunman. They are not releasing the identity to the general public. The shooter by the community is described as somebody who is not known to members of that Sikh temple. They are executing a search warrant now on what they believe to be the gunman's home. It is described as a short distance away from the temple in a neighborhood known as the Cudahy, Wisconsin.
So, right now, they are searching that area, executing a warrant. They are going to go through the home. They are going to look for evidence. They're going to go through computers.
They are going to find out whether, in fact, there was any connection to anyone else. Whether there may have been accomplices, whether this may have been part of something larger, something planned, whether the suspected gunman may have even left notes behind. All of that are pieces of evidence that they are going to be looking for.
There were semi-automatic handguns that were recovered at the crime scene. At least one of them is believed to belong to the gunman, and the other one to a police officer.
And as we were talking earlier, Don and Rob, this is being described as a domestic terrorism-type incident. You have to think about this. Six people from the Sikh community were gunned down in cold blood. Plus, there's the attempted murder of at least two police officers. One of them, who was ambushed -- in the words of one of the chiefs there who was speaking, was ambushed and shot multiple times. But then, the gunman trying to shoot another police officer who then successfully shot and killed the gunman.
That whole temple, that whole area is considered a crime scene. Everything is being cordoned off. Everything is sectioned off. You're going to have forensic experts sweeping through there. They are going to look in the temple prayer room, the area where the book was kept that everyone was praying with. They're going to look there. That's where a number of the injured are described to have been located. Then they are going to be looking at other areas within the temple.
We are told that at the home of the alleged gunman that a bomb squad is on scene. They are going to be very careful. Remember - and, Don, you know very well, they went through this in Aurora, Colorado, where it wasn't the shooting area that was dangerous, but also the home, the apartment. So they want to make sure the alleged gunman didn't set any traps or rig that home so when he was discovered, when his identity was discovered, that other law enforcement officers going in would be injured. They are approaching it very carefully. They are not going to be taking any chances. But again, if they are going to find any information, any evidence, that's certainly the place to go -- Don? Rob?
DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Deb Feyerick in New York. Great information, Deb, about the suspect's home, a search warrant as well. A search going on there. I wonder if it has anything to do with what Ted Rowlands was looking at. He said he was at a scene very near this place and there was a home close to the perimeter of that temple.
You're looking at pictures from our affiliate, WISN. That is where Ted Rowlands was earlier.
Now, this home they are focusing in on, again, we are not sure -- folks in the control room -- if this has anything to do with the shooter, correct. This is our affiliate, WSIN. We don't have control of these pictures. But now, it appears they are focusing on a neighborhood rather than the temple itself. One would presume, if they have issued a search warrant and if they are searching the property of the suspect, that that would be the home or the neighborhood where he lives.
Quick break. We'll be right back in just a moment with a 15-year veteran of law enforcement who is going to help us walk -- he's going to help walk us through this. Back in a moment.
ROB MARCIANO, CNN ANCHOR: Seven victims in the temple shooting just outside of Milwaukee today. Seven dead, one, the shooter shot by a policeman, all killed in today's attack. From now on, it's going to be a police investigation, at least assuming that the SWAT teams and tactical forces have cleared out of that building. The temple just 17,000 square foot.
Alex Manning is a former police investigator.
Assuming once they get those tactical forces out of there, then it becomes an active crime scene where people like you and other investigators will go in there. What's the process? What would they be looking for?
ALEX MANNING, FORMER AGENT, GEORGIA BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION: They are going to be there a long time, to start with. Piece by piece, they are probably going to separate the temple into different rooms. Go piece by piece so for hair, fiber, blood splatter, any trace evidence, pictures that document the crime scene so they can present it in court later. They are going to be meticulous about this crime scene.
MARCIANO: Will they treat this in the same Manner as if they hadn't caught or shot the shooter, that he was still at large?
MANNING: Absolutely. Absolutely.
MARCIANO: Why is that? They have the man seemingly that perpetrated this crime. Why would they take it further?
MANNING: Confessions or anything like that can be thrown out if you have an excellent defense attorney. Just because you catch someone at the scene doesn't mean it's an open-and-shut case. They still need to make their case. Evidence, forensics always makes your case. Forensics do not lie. MARCIANO: So how much time will it take? You said they'll be in there for a very long time. Given the size of this place, and much of the action seemed to be in one particular area, will they comb all 17,000 square feet or will they just go to the scene of action?
MANNING: Absolutely. They should and they will. They'll have a secondary crime scene, I'm sure, which you guys -- the video earlier of the area of the home where maybe the suspect lives. That's also a crime scene. The crime scene is the grounds. They probably have it blocked off several blocks. The whole neighborhood could be a crime scene. Did he come in on a vehicle? On foot? Are there videotapes? Everything right there within the immediate area is a crime scene. I would suspect they'll be there until the wee hours of the morning.
MARCIANO: The police chief during the press conference said they are treating this as an act of domestic violence, terrorism, excuse me. Because of that, the FBI would be leading the investigation. So does that mean they're the first ones in and everybody walks in after them or is it still a team effort? How does it all go down?
MANNING: It's still a team effort. Much like when I worked for the GBI, we were an assisting agency. We were leading some investigations. They have access to different crime labs and many different things that maybe the local police department does, but by no means is the FBI in charge. They're there. They'll prosecute it federally, probably under the U.S. Patriot Act.
I believe someone spoke earlier about why they are calling it domestic terrorism. That's why the chief referred to it as domestic terrorism. And it's any domestic act or act of violence used to intimidate civilians or government to act in a certain way or to change a policy. Much like the Olympic City bombing, the Centennial Park bombing, things such as that. Maybe even the shooting in Colorado could have been used as that. You don't know if they are out there to intimidate the public and change policies. If this shooter happens to be from a hate group taking it out on a certain sect of people, domestic terror.
MARCIANO: There's so many facets to this story. We want you to hang around. We appreciate your expertise here.
Alex Manning, a former police investigator.
We'll also get inside on the Sikh religion itself. A little bit later in the broadcast, we'll talk with a 15-year police veteran as well about the investigation that's ongoing.
We'll take a quick commercial break. We'll be right back.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
LEMON: We are back now with our breaking news coverage of the temple shooting in Wisconsin. Seven people are dead now, according to police. One of those is the gunman. In his statement on the shooting, the president of the United States, Barack Obama, mentioned how the Sikh community is part of our American family. But that community is unfamiliar to many of us.
Our next guest is here to explain a religion that is the fifth-largest in the world, but is a mystery to many Americans here.
Rajwant Singh is the chairman of the Sikh Council on Religion and Education. And he joins us now from Washington.
Thank you so much for joining us, sir. We really appreciate it.
And as this is unfolding and time moves on now, we can really talk more in-depth about the Sikh community and the religion.
My condolences first of all for the tragedy which has struck your community.
Some of our viewers may not be familiar with the religion. It can be hard to put into words. Can you try to describe to us some of your beliefs?
RAJWANT SINGH, CHAIRMAN, SIKH COUNCIL ON RELIGION AND EDUCATION: Well, thank you so much, Don, for inviting me and having this opportunity to educate our fellow brothers and sisters.
First of all, before I even begin, I would like to offer my prayers for the policemen who risked their lives making sure more lives are not lost. They are American heroes. We did a prayer and meditation for their well being and their family's well-being.
Sikh religion is basically the fifth-largest religion, as you know. We -- the largest population is in northern India in a state called Punjab. We are about 700,000 Sikhs in the United States. We have been here from the late 1800s. In fact, this year, we are celebrating the 100 anniversary of the first Sikh house of worship being built in Stockton, California. The community has been thriving and working hard and has been part of the American spectrum almost 100 years.
Unfortunately, because of 9/11 and all the incidents leading to today, people have -- or many Americans, people who don't have much knowledge about Sikhism or the faiths of the world, mistake us for belonging to Taliban or belonging to a network of bin Laden. I believe that -- and many of our community members believe that this could be part of the same cycle that we have been facing since 9/11, which is a hate crime. People mistake us and think we are against America or -- and the sad fact is 99 percent of people who wear turbans in the United States are Sikhs. But we are mistakenly seen as against America or working against or killing the American troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. So the faith itself is very much what the American idealists are.
LEMON: Mr. Singh?
LEMON: I'm glad you on with us earlier, because as you were trying to talk about this -- I'm glad you're on with us now. But as you were trying to talk about this earlier, I wanted you to clarify that more. But you couldn't hear me in the phone. Many people thought I cut you off. I didn't. I wanted to clarify that because I don't want to confuse our viewers about what we are saying. And at this point -- at that point, it was more about the investigation. As this is playing out, why is this important, which is what my question earlier was going to be. Why is this so important for you to point this bit of information out?
SINGH: Because a lot of this violence is coming out of ignorance. People don't know who Sikhs are. Because of our appearance, we are mistakenly identified with a group which is working against the interests of America in the world. So it is important for people out there to know who Sikhs are and how they are part of the fabric of America and have contributed immensely by their hard work, because that's what the faith believes in. We believe in one god, and living by honest means. That means hard work. Then, the third one is sharing your blessings with the underprivileged or the people who are unfortunate.
LEMON: If I can ask you one more question. Earlier, we were talking about Muslims, which Sikhs are not. Hindus, Sikhs, or what have you, one representative says that Hindus can be part of the religion. And someone says, for millions of years, Hindus in India, there are Hindus who construct boudwaras (ph) and they worship as well in a very similar fashion. Can you clarify for our viewers so there is no misinformation out there?
SINGH: Thank you so much for bringing that issue again. Well, Sikhism, as you know, it has grown in India. A majority of the Sikh followers live in the state of Punjab. There are many Hindus and there are many Muslims who are attracted to the wonderful philosophy of equality and embracing everyone. They come to the Sikh temples. They go to the Golden Temple in India and they worship. Many of the hymns which are contained in the Sikh scriptures, which is (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE), has the writings of the saints who belong to the Hindu faith and the Muslim faith. But the idea was to say the spirituality is not a monopoly of one religion or one faith. It belongs to everybody. So that aspect sometimes is misunderstood in saying that Sikhism is an offshoot of Hinduism or an amalgamation of Islam and Hinduism. Whereas, the Sikh Vudas (ph), which is the first (INAUDIBLE). He has his own spiritual experience and revered the word and started the preaching of this faith, which is based on equality of men and women and hard work and believing in one god.
LEMON: Mr. Singh, thank you very much. I really appreciate you coming on.
I want to say to you and to the viewers -- Just so you know. I don't have to say this. And I'm being completely transparent here. You were on earlier, you couldn't hear me. I was not being rude to you. There are people, as I'm talking to you now, saying we've got to get to a break. We have to get to a press conference. There are time constraints here.
LEMON: Right. So I just want you to know that. And I'm glad you came on to clarify. I think the information you gave us was pivotal. And that is what I was trying to get at earlier, but you couldn't hear me, but you said it perfectly. Because there's a lot of ignorance about your religion. I think that's the important point out of all this.
SINGH: And maybe another thing, Don, you might want to point out is the reason why we wear a turban, is because we have long, un-shorn hair. We don't cut our hair. But we welcome anybody who is maybe not in full Sikh. They're still part of the congregation. So the turban is basically to cover our hair. And it is a symbol of sovereignty and a symbol of freedom. And that's what Sikhism stands for, is freedom for all to progress in society and be equal partners.
SINGH: But unfortunately, because of the 9/11 atmosphere, this turban is sometimes -- or many times, people think that this is some sort of backwards sign, where Taliban is suppressing woman. And we are saying equality for woman. So we are totally opposite. So thank you so much for clarifying.
LEMON: Yes. And, of course, as well, and I know the men wear turbans. But when we're speaking of the women as well, and the broader term would be headdress that I was seeking earlier to say.
Go ahead. Go ahead.
SINGH: Yes. Yes, indeed, the headdress is worn by woman as well. The idea is to bring equality among men and women.
SINGH: The other thing which I want to point out is that there are farmers in California, there are doctors all across the nation, there taxi cab drivers, there are scientist, all are contributing immensely for the strength of this nation. And we pray for all -- it's very unfortunate that this happened in our house of worship.
But whether it's in Colorado or whether it's happening in Virginia Tech, every American suffers through this pain. And we are going through this pain. But while we are going through this pain, we are praying for the wellbeing all Americans.
And we are thankful to President Obama. But I've told the White House this is like Bush's mosque moment. He ought to visit the Sikh temple to show make -- his solidarity.
LEMON: And thank you very much.
We have gone about five minutes longer than my producers would have had me go on this. But I think it's important here. This is a learning situation. I kept this going because I think it's important that people know about this and know exactly what's going on. You have spoken to the White House and clarified it, and you've also taught us so much in just the couple of minutes you've been on.
Stick around because I want to talk more with you about this, and also, too, about a rush to judgment, possibly, Mr. Singh. I'm sure you have some insight on that. Don't go anywhere.
I'd like him to stay with us, producers, and talk a little bit more. I think he's a great contributor to this conversation and this breaking news.
We want to talk more about the investigation. Our Deb Feyerick talking to her sources in New York. We'll hear from Deb right on the other side of the break.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
MARCIANO: We continue our coverage of the breaking news of the shooting inside that Sikh temple just south of Milwaukee.
We want to get to Deb Feyerick who has some new information.
LEMON: What do you have, Deb?
FEYERICK: Rob, Don, I just got of the phone with a member of the community who tells me that family members are going to various hospitals. They're still trying to find out the status of the injured and also the killed. Seven people dead, including the gunman, but also three in critical condition. We are told that a priest is among the dead. Also that the president of that temple was trying to tackle the gunman when he was shot in the back. That is according to a member of the community who spoke to the president's son.
Several witnesses are at the police station. They are still being questioned about what went on in that temple. And this was a very busy time because, at several times during the year, Sikhs read their prayer book, their holy book, cover to cover. So this was a 24-hour, three-day stretch. They had just finished the final prayer when the gunman burst into that special room where the holy book is kept.
The family who hosts this celebration -- that's why there was all this cooking was going on and all these women who were in the kitchen -- to celebrate the ending of the book. They were making meals. They're supposed to serve food and tea over this three-day period. And we were told it was being done by a family who was celebrating a child's birthday. So all these details, all these details coming into play.
But we are told that a priest is among the dead and that the president of the temple was shot as he was trying to tackle the gunman -- Don? Rob?
LEMON: All right, Deb Feyerick, thank you very much.
We'll be right back.