On Sunday, August 5th a single gunman entered the Sikh Temple and fired rounds killing six at a sacred place of worship. The perpetrator was stopped by brave first responders. We may never know the single answer of ‘why’ this senseless tragedy happened at a sacred place of worship but what we have learned about the Sikh community is their resolve, and peacefulness is stronger than any bullet.
Almost immediately, the call for American Red Cross assistance was received. We activated numerous trained personnel to work with the affected communities. For the first responders, including SWAT, FBI, ATF along with local teams of police, sheriffs, and local officials have worked around the clock. It’s been several days since the shooting and we are still providing snacks, food, water, coffee and a moment of respite as crews continue to work tirelessly. They will solve the criminal investigation questions.
We also worked hand-in-hand with the families themselves. They were shaken, distraught, seeking answers and given the opportunity to enjoy silence amongst hundreds. Our mental health professionals were at their side, lending an ear, a shoulder, a tissue. I listened and watched Harans Farwaha share how his ‘young bride’ of 57 years was within 10 to 15-feet of the shooter. “Had he turned right instead of left, she would be gone today,” he explains as water wells-up in his eyes, tears stream from hers.
Tuesday evening was the Oak Creek community’s annual and pre-scheduled National Night Out. Thousands of families attended, gathered emergency planning information, shared their streets and interacted with the Sikh community. A candle-light vigil was also incorporated into the evening. The Sikh community shared their immigration story which brought them to the United States in 1912. With a strong work ethic, they built the railroads, farmed the land, became business owners and lived the American dream. They explained their three golden rules to remember their source, earn a living honestly and share with those less fortunate.
The U.S. Ambassador to India shared how this is ‘humanities night-out’ and “we all share a sense of deep sorrow and grief. India is a land of expressive diversity & nothing expresses it like the Sikh community. Courage, commitment, giving, valor and patriotism are words we are defined by. This is a time of renewal and faith to the human family.”
Throughout the evening, you felt the international, language and custom barriers breaking down. This was not a day to reclaim what we lost but a day to reflect and embrace. It was stated, “we are not separated – just on different continents looking for each other.”
We are fortunate to have trained staff and volunteers from all cultures, background and education. This evening included a multi-lingual Red Cross volunteer who speaks English, Hindi and Punjabi – the traditional Sikh language. Although many in the community spoke English, several of the elders did not. It was through use of words, the traditional greeting (folding of hands with a slight bow) and the use of their fear none – frighten none mantra we all explored cultural differences together. Their doors will be open and ours are open as well.
Through this tragedy, we have all learned through actions, words and compassion. We, at the American Red Cross, are simply honored to help during this difficult time.