The shootings, which happened about 10:30 a.m. Central time, caused chaos at the 15-year-old temple, with reports of multiple gunmen and of police, in tactical gear and carrying assault rifles, surrounding the building. Police said later that they think the man killed was the only shooter.
Authorities would not identify him, but law enforcement officials described him as a Caucasian man in his late 30s or early 40s who lived in this area of Wisconsin. Federal and state agents are examining his background, including whether he had posted anything on the Internet, said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is unfolding.
A semiautomatic pistol was recovered at the scene, officials said.
The FBI is leading the investigation, with help from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and local police. Oak Creek Police Chief John Edwards said the shootings are being “treated as a domestic terrorist-type incident.”
But federal law enforcement officials said it was too early to tell what happened and why.
“Right now, it’s just a mass shooting,” said a federal official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not an authorized spokesman. “What you have is somebody who went into a Sikh temple and opened fire. Who knows what his motivation was.’’
Teresa Carlson, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Milwaukee Division, said that “while the FBI is investigating whether this matter might be an act of domestic terrorism, no motive has been determined at this time.”
The carnage came as the nation is still reeling from a mass shooting two weeks ago in which a gunman killed 12 people and injured 58 at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo. James Holmes, 24, has been charged.
President Obama and his Republican rival in the fall election, Mitt Romney, issued statements Sunday expressing condolences to the victims in Oak Creek and the Sikh community, and Obama met with top federal officials and pledged federal assistance to Wisconsin.
“At this difficult time, the people of Oak Creek must know that the American people have them in our thoughts and prayers,” he said.
The pain was especially felt among the nation’s more than 500,000 adherents of the Sikh faith, most of whom are first- or second-generation immigrants from India, where Sikhism was founded several centuries ago.
Sikh men tend to stand out because of their beards and colorful turbans, which are ritually wrapped around uncut hair, and leaders in the community say they are sometimes confused with Muslims and viewed with suspicion. After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, there were scattered reports nationwide of harassment or attacks on Indian Sikhs, including the killing of an unarmed man in Phoenix.