Robbery reported at Sikh temple in Livingston

vpatton@mercedsunstar.com, mnorth@mercedsunstar.comJanuary 29, 2013 

LIVINGSTON -- Authorities are on the lookout for several men after an armed robbery at the Guru Nanak Sikh Temple here last weekend, police reported Tuesday.

No one was hurt during the robbery at the 884 B St. temple.

Police said the three robbers entered the temple through the front door at about 1:50 a.m. Sunday. One of the men was armed with a gun, while another man was armed with a knife. The third robber was unarmed.

A woman was inside the temple, worshipping, and one of the men put his finger over his lips while motioning for her to be quiet. Two other worshippers, one of whom was asleep, were also inside when the robbery occurred.

The three men took a few thousand dollars from a donation box and departed through a side door, joining with two other men who were waiting outside, police said.

Chief Ruben Chavez said all of the men were wearing hooded jackets or sweatshirts, concealing their identities.

Chavez said while money has been stolen from the donation box before, it's the first robbery that he knows of at the temple. "This is more brazen because they did come in armed," he said. "Obviously it's someone who knew the temple because they knew where to go.

"We're looking at different angles, and we will do our best to get to the bottom of it. We really want to identify who they are," Chavez added. Chavez said police are reviewing video surveillance footage from the robbery.

In August, a Wisconsin shooting rampage at a Sikh temple left seven people dead and injured several others. That incident was on the minds of many after Sunday's robbery.

Mayor Pro Tem Gurpal Samra, who worships at both of the city's Sikh temples, classified Sunday's robbery as "very disturbing."

"I was in Fresno when I got the call," Samra said. "The first thing that flashed in my mind was Wisconsin, right away."

The Wisconsin incident was one of the reasons officials at the temple had surveillance cameras installed, said Narinder Dola, vice president of the temple.

He's glad those inside of the temple didn't confront the robbers.

"I think the members who were here inside the church, if they reacted to it, it could have wound up like Wisconsin," Dola said. "So I think they did the smart move, they didn't do anything, they just kept quiet."

Temple President Rajinder Takhar agreed that the situation could have been a lot worse. But despite the incident, the temple will continue to stay open and welcoming to the public.

"It's a place of worship," Takhar said. "This is where we come and worship. We donate the money here, we don't steal from here."

The robbers could be facing several charges if arrested, including armed robbery, brandishing a firearm, conspiracy, burglary with intent to commit a felony, exhibiting a deadly weapon and exhibiting a firearm, according to police.

It's likely that there will be an increased police presence at both of Livingston's Sikh temples in the near future.

Sikhism is a religion founded in India. It has 27 million followers, and more than 5 million of them live outside India. Sikhs make up nearly 20 percent of Livingston's population.

Livingston police are asking anyone with information about the culprits to call (209) 394-7916. Tips are kept confidential and you can remain anonymous.

City Editor Victor Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or vpatton@mercedsunstar.com. Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or mnorth@mercedsunstar.com.

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