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Newtown vigil held in Brookfield

Sikhs join in prayer for victims of another mass shooting

People gather in Brookfield on Saturday at the Sikh Religious Society of Wisconsin for a prayer service and candlelight vigil for the victims of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

People gather in Brookfield on Saturday at the Sikh Religious Society of Wisconsin for a prayer service and candlelight vigil for the victims of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Photo By Peter Zuzga

Dec. 16, 2012

A community of faith familiar with the pain of sudden loss joined together in prayer after another mass shooting on the nation's east coast.

A candlelight vigil was held at the Sikh Religious Society of Wisconsin in Brookfield Saturday. Candles were lit and hands pressed together in prayer for the 26 people killed after a gunman opened fire at Sandy Hook Elementary School Friday morning in Newtown, Conn.

Authorities said 20-year-old Adam Lanza killed his mother at her home before storming the elementary school, killing 20 young children and six adults within minutes.

Lanza was later found dead inside the school.

Authorities released a list of names and ages of the young victims - all between 6 and 7-years-old - Saturday, sending shockwaves across the world.

The Sikh community experienced similar grief when a white supremacist burst into the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek Aug. 5, killing six and wounding four as members prepared for Sunday prayer.

Members of the Sikh community were in shock after hearing about Friday's shooting.

"We were really sad when we heard about the kids," said Gurcharan Singh Grewal, president of the Sikh Religious Society. "We thought what happened at the Sikh temple was the worst thing to happen because it was a place of worship, but this may be worse."

A group of 100 gathered at the Sikh temple to remember those lost in August and pray for the community of Newtown.

People of different backgrounds - Sikh and non-Sikh - embraced in unity at the temple. Some live in Brookfield; others came from as far as Racine. Adults and children covered their heads in soft, colored head wraps and removed their shoes, in line with Sikh tradition, before entering the temple. Traditional Sikh instrumental music and prayer filled the temple as attendees sat, bowed, and tried to find peace after another tragic shooting.

"Our wounds are still fresh and we're still trying to heal," Grewal said. "We want to let those in Newtown know that we stand by them and we will pray for them and send a message that time is healing."

Relying on faith while addressing insecurities

According to sikhs.org, Sikhism, a religion barely 500 years old, is a faith of hope and cheer. The word 'Sikh' in the Punjabi language means "disciple."

Today, the Sikh religion has a following of over 20 million people worldwide and is ranked as the world's fifth largest religion, according to the website.

Sikhs follow the writings and teachings of 10 Sikh gurus.Sikhism teaches that people of different races, religions, or sexes are equal in the eyes of God. Sikhs believe that God is inside every person and that everyone is capable of change.

Grewal said his faith has helped him heal wounds from the August shooting and hopes the vigil will do the same for the Newtown community.

"The Sikh teaching is simple: pray to God, God has the highest power and to forgive people also," he said. "I know sometimes it's easy to feel that you want to take revenge and feel anger, but the Sikh religion teaches peace, love, and forgiveness."

Grewal admits that it isn't always easy to forgive, but he knows it's an important step in healing.

He said community support since the shooting has made it easier to cope.

"I've received text messages, e-mails, and touching letters of support," he said. "It still hurts, but time is healing."

Parents kissed and held their children tightly during Saturday's prayer, some feeling unsure about their children's safety in school.

Early reports said that the principal at Sandy Hook, also killed in the shooting, bypassed the security system because she recognized the shooter as the son of one of the school's staff members. Authorities said Saturday that this was not the case and that Lanza may have forced his way into the building.

Manpreed Kaur of Brookfield is a member of the society and attended the vigil. She voiced her concerns for the safety of her 5-year-old daughter at school.

"I feel very insecure about sending her to school," Kaur said. "There should be tighter rules and secured areas for children. It brings tears to your eyes."

Teachers at Sandy Hook told authorities they barricaded doors with file cabinets and huddled children in corners or closets as the gun shots rang through the building.

Hope for peace

Grewal hasn't given up on the idea of peace.

"I think we should respect each other and teach children family values," he said. "It will take time and multiple factors in eliminating violence like this, but it can be done."

Grewal said gun control is another major factor in the cruel acts of violence seen around the country.

"I would say to President Obama and U.S. Congress that shedding those tears on the day of is not good anymore," he said. "Someone should be doing something different. We don't believe that guns should be banned, but there should be better gun control."

The shooter used three guns in the massacre, one of them a military-style assault rifle. All of the weapons were registered to his mother, according to Newtown police. Victims were shot between three to 11 times, the Connecticut chief state medical examiner said in a press conference Saturday.

As the people of Newtown attempt to find hope and healing during dark times, Grewal and others in the local community pray for peace after another tragic loss of innocent lives.

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