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Grief-stricken Sikhs join in prayer in Queens

Members of the Sikh Cultural Center in Richmond

Members of the Sikh Cultural Center in Richmond Hill section of Queens come to hear NY Mayor Bloomberg speak the day after the sect was the target of a shooting incident in a temple in Wisconsin. (Aug. 6, 2012) Credit: Uli Seit

Scores of grief-stricken Sikhs came solemnly Monday to the Sikh Cultural Society in Queens, joining in prayer and remembering the six killed and three wounded in Sunday's mass shooting at a Wisconsin temple.

Devinder Singh, his face grave, collected phone numbers so he could call India and talk to relatives of his friend, Sita Singh, 44, whom he said was a priest in the temple south of Milwaukee and was among those killed. Sita Singh's brother, Ranjeet Singh, also was slain, he said.

Devinder Singh, 48, of Richmond Hill, had spoken Monday with Sita Singh's wife, who is in India with the couple's two sons and two daughters.

"Too much crying," he said. His wife had asked if her husband was coming back, and "I said, 'No more. How can he come back?' " The wife was disbelieving, he said.

The death was "very hard to explain," Devinder Singh said. "He was a very good person. A very honest person."

A grieving Mohan Singh Khatra stood on the steps outside the Richmond Hill temple, the center of a ring of multifaith support and comfort that included a Hindu pundit, a Muslim imam, a Sikh Gurdwara priest and two pastors of Christian denominations. Some touched his shoulders.

Khatra's uncle, Subeg Singh Khatra, was another of those killed.

"He was very active. He was friends with everybody," said Khatra, who added that his uncle worked in the kitchen and was there every morning. "If somebody needed food or anything, water," he had it.

Khatra, the Queens temple's new chairman, had planned to travel to Wisconsin this weekend to visit relatives, he said. Instead, he was making arrangements to go there for his uncle's funeral.

Other members of the long-established Sikh community in the Richmond Hill neighborhood are planning a religious service to pray for those killed in the Wisconsin shooting and their families, said Gurdev Singh Kang, the society's president.

He expressed appreciation for the stepped-up police presence at Sikh temples. The society has not changed any meeting times or recruited more members to serve as extra security because of the shooting, he said.

The Sikh community in Richmond Hill numbers more than 20,000 -- about one-fifth of the citywide total, said Harpreet Singh Toor, 56, of East Meadow, who acts as the society's media relations coordinator. A substantial number of Sikhs also live on Long Island, in communities including Hicksville, Jericho, Brookville, East Meadow, Merrick and Levittown.

"We have always felt safe in New York City," Toor said. "They're already taking the precautions and everything, what we expect them to do so that a copycat doesn't happen."

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