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After mass shooting in Wisconsin, South Florida Sikhs remember with prayer

The shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin is reverberating through South Florida’s small Sikh community.

To help deal with the tragic loss, a Broward congregation planned a candlelight vigil Monday night at its temple, 16000 Stirling Rd. in Southwest Ranches, to honor the victims of the attack.

“Our prayers go out to all the affected — to the families of the casualties, the injured and also to the traumatized children that had to witness the attack,” said Praveen Kaur Jolly, secretary of the Sikh Society of Florida, the umbrella group for about 1,200 Sikhs in the region. “But we also want the signal to be seen by ordinary Americans not only by the Sikh community.”

Jolly didn’t want to jump to conclusions on the reasons behind the attack or whether it was religiously motivated. “Shootings like this can happen anywhere to anyone,” she said before the prayer service. “In my view this was an attack on Americans in general.”

The mass shooting in suburban Milwaukee came just weeks after the shooting in Aurora, Colo. and shocked religious groups and policymakers throughout the United States. Six people plus the shooter are dead.

On Monday, officials identified the shooter as Wade Michael Page, who served in the U.S. Army for about six years. Police, however, are still trying to investigate the motive. Speculation involves Page possibly mistaking the Sikhs for Muslims because of their similar appearance.

Jolly said being mistaken for Muslims occasionally “happens here in Florida as well mostly because of our turbans.”

“In general we are living very peaceful here, our neighbors are excellent, we have no problems worshipping.”

In solidarity, Florida Muslims have spoken out on the Wisconsin killings.

“The Coalition of South Florida Muslim Community is deeply shocked and saddened by Oak Creek tragedy against the Sikh community,” said spokesman Shabbir Motorwala in a statement. He demanded the law enforcement to be more vigilant in protecting minorities.

Jolly called on other Sikh communities across the country to keep with routine.

“We must not create a feeling of fear, “ she said. “It does not correspond with our values. If we live in fear we cannot live. Fear takes you nowhere.”

To show that the congregation has no plans to seal off from society after the shooting, Jolly said that her organization will have an open house next Sunday.

“Everybody is welcome,” she said.