The third annual Sant Jarnail Singhji weightlifting competition event at the historic Stockton Gurdwara Sahib in California last weekend turned somber after a gunfight between two groups involved in the Sikh Referendum 2020. At least three people were hospitalized, though the police categorized their injuries as non-life-threatening.
Stockton police spokesperson Joe Silva, told indica that the incident occurred at approximately 6:40 PM on August 27. “Officers responded to a shooting near the Stockton Sikh Temple,” he said. “A disturbance broke out between the suspects and victims which resulted in an exchange of gunfire. We don’t release names of victims. The three male victims, 27, 28, and 32 were attending an event in the area.” All three are California residents.
Stockton police said two male suspects are on the run. “An investigation is ongoing,” Silva said.
The Stockton Gurdwara Sahib is a historically significant monument. It is the first Sikh place of worship built in the United States in 1912.
The annual competition was hosted by the California Sikh Youth Alliance (CSYA), and it attracted over 300 participants from across America. Kunarveer Singh, an organizer, said that the competition was successful and the prize distribution ceremony had almost concluded when the incident took place.
“I thought children were playing with firecrackers,” he told indica, “but we soon learned the gun shots are being fired from near the gurdwara entrance. We rushed to the door and I was shocked to see shots fired between two groups. We saw people with guns. It happened so quickly. What we know is that 23 shots were fired. They injured people had nothing to do with the gurdwara or the CSYA.”
He reiterated that the groups involved in the shooting were not participants. “We are not aware of who they were, or which organization they represent,” Singh said. “We are still wondering why they chose a holy place like a Gurdwara to start firing at each other. It seems these are individuals from different cities.”
Singh said it was fortunate that the shooting did not happen inside the premises. “Our participants and audience were safe, but it is still scary to hear gunshots. People were shocked and they left in a hurry. I am just glad that the injuries were limited.”
He said that while it did create a fear of the unknown in the peace-loving Stockton Sikh community, “The Gurdwara is well prepared to take care of such a situation. We had security.”
Footage recorded by CCTV cameras showed that the two groups violently gesturing at and threatening each other. “They were clearly not wearing the turban and they did not look like Sikhs. There was no kirpan on them as well.
“They were haircut individuals and I won’t even consider them Sikh at that point. They weren’t wearing turban or kirpan all four of them,” Singh said.
Tejpaul Singh Baniwal, a gurdwara member told indica, “The investigation is ongoing and we are waiting for the report.”
Bhajan Singh, a local Sikh activist, said, “Our first concern was whether any participating children were hurt. We need everyone to remain safe.”