SA Sikhs encouraged by support after Wis. shooting

Shooting leads to outpouring of love, support in SA Sikh community


SAN ANTONIO – One day after a Wisconsin man went on a shooting rampage inside a Sikh center killing six and critically wounding three others, the local Sikh community planned to hold a prayer vigil for the victims.

San Antonio is home to about 250 Sikh families, but they are expected to be joined by many more people from outside the religion.

Balwinder Dhillon, president of the Sikh Center of San Antonio, said they have experienced and outpouring of support in the wake of the shootings. Within 30 minutes of Sunday's shooting, people began stopping by the center offering their support.

"We treat everyone respectfully and with love," Dhillon said, adding that's how they've been treated by people outside the religion. "It's been heartwarming. It's unbelievable. We could not expect more support."

Several people left flowers; others have left cash donations. Dhillon said some people have just come by to say they are sorry.

"We are all American and we are all together in this hard time and there could be no better evidence by seeing the people coming here showing their support," said Dhillon.

There are an estimated 25 million Sikhs worldwide, with 700,000 living in America. The religion is only about 500 years old but it is the fifth largest religion in the world.

Followers believe in equality, community service and a general love of humanity.

Dhillon said followers are often mistaken as Muslims for the way they dress, which has opened them up to anti-Muslim bias in the post 9/11 era.

"The men, they grow beards and wear turbans and they think we are Muslims, and that was the mistake," Dhillon said. "I think most people mistake us with Muslims but I want to clarify that 99.9 percent of people who you see with a turban are Sikhs. For Sikhs, it's a religious requirement. However, with Muslims and other religions, it's cultural."

While the shooting is being investigated as an act of domestic terrorism, the local Sikh center is not increasing security and they aren't worried about any copycats.

"We understand some people may be fearful, but at the same time, we believe San Antonio is a great city and we don't have to worry about anything," Dhillon said.

A candlelight prayer vigil was planned at the center for Monday night between 6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. 

Dhillon said everyone was welcome to attend, adding he'd already been contacted by leaders from the Christian, Jewish, and Hindu religions, who planned to represent the followers of their faiths.

For a list of recent stories Tim Gerber has done, click here.