SAN ANTONIO – A day after a Wisconsin man went on a shooting rampage inside a Sikh center killing 6 and critically wounding 3 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 an 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 held at the center for Monday night. Followers of several different faiths attended the service including representatives of the Christian, Jewish and Hindu faiths.
Rose Maurer, a Christian said she knew very little about the Sikh faith but left with a better understanding.
"I just think it's a wonderfully God driven religion and that's who we all worship," Maurer said. "I just wanted to show support for the Sikh people and let them know that we care. The Christian community cares about them."
Gurpaul Singh said it was a blessing to see so many people reach out to the Sikh community.
"We are pleased to have their support as we go through the grieving process and start to heal from this event," Singh said. "Religious tolerance is a corner stone of our faith. In fact, many of our leaders lay down their lives to fight for religious freedom not just for Sikh's but for other religions and for people to practice their faith so it's ironic that we were the targets of this domestic terrorism.
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