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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Police investigating after Federal Way Sikh center vandalized

By Heidi Groover Seattle Times

Police are investigating after a Sikh house of worship and community center in Federal Way was ransacked and burglarized Friday.

The Khalsa Gurmat Center said Saturday its main hall and prayer area had been damaged, windows were broken and several computers and TV monitors were stolen. Surveillance video showed the break-in happened Friday, according to the center.

Investigators were trying to determine if the incident was a hate crime, Federal Way police Cmdr. Kurt Schwan said.

The center’s leaders felt “shock and disbelief” when they found the damage, director Dr. Jasmit Singh said Sunday. “We had never even imagined something like this could happen in the community center.”

About 200 to 250 families regularly attend the center for prayers and educational programming, Singh said.

“For this to happen has really shaken us up as a community,” Singh said. Members are confused and frustrated, he said.

“What was the primary purpose of this person? Was it to destroy all the things we hold dear, because he went after the prayer room and basically destroyed it? Or was it burglary?” Singh said.

Among the areas damaged was the location where the center typically holds its holy scriptures, though they were not in the building at the time, Singh said. The suspect also destroyed musical instruments, Singh said.

Federal Way police responded to the center Saturday and a King County technician collected fingerprint evidence, Cmdr. Schwan said in a statement. Surveillance camera video shows a male suspect breaking in, according to police and the center.

The department will investigate “whether or not any biases were involved by the suspect that perpetrated this crime,” Schwan said. Anyone with information is asked to call (253) 835-2121.

The Sikh Coalition, a national advocacy group founded in the wake of hate crimes after 9/11, condemned the act.

“Based on video surveillance, it is clear that the suspect willfully and maliciously vandalized this place of importance to the local Sikh community,” said the group’s legal director, Amrith Kaur Aakre, in a statement.

The coalition estimates about 60,000 to 75,000 Sikhs live in Washington. Sikhs have been the targets of hate crimes here, including several attacks on Sikh cabdrivers in Western Washington.

Singh said volunteers cleaned up Saturday and the center was back open Sunday.

“It’s not like the community is scared, but it’s definitely something the community is rallying together on,” he said. “We know these challenges, when they come, the community finds a way to come out of it.”