Police: One detained after shooting outside Sikh celebration

Posted by SAMANTHA WOHLFEIL on April 26, 2014 

LYNDEN — Police arrested a Whatcom County man after a fight broke out and at least one shot was fired outside of a religious celebration at a Sikh temple in Lynden Saturday afternoon, April 26, according to the Whatcom County Sheriff's Office.

Witnesses reported several men started fighting around 2:30 p.m. in front of the Guru Nanak Gursikh gurdwara, or temple, at 176 E. Pole Road, Whatcom County Sheriff's Sgt. Scott Huso said.

One man, Balwinder Nagra, 41, from the Bellingham area, allegedly grabbed a gun from his vehicle and shot at several other men, Huso said.

Officers from the Sheriff's Office, Lynden, Sumas, Everson and U.S. Customs and Border Enforcement responded to the scene.

Nagra was arrested and booked into Whatcom County Jail on suspicion of drive-by shooting and unlawful possession of a firearm, Huso said. Under state law the term "drive-by shooting" includes shootings from the immediate area of a vehicle used to transport the suspect, the weapon or both.

There were no known injuries, but the other men involved in the fight left the area and officers are still trying to contact them, Huso said.

"We're still trying to identify and locate everyone involved," Huso said. "There were reports several people got in a car and left."

One bullet went through both the passenger and driver's side windows of a parked white Toyota Camry in a field about 150 yards away from the event before striking another parked car.

More than 1,000 visitors gathered at the temple Saturday for the annual Vaisakhi Parade, which is celebrated by Sikhs around the world as the most important holy day in their religious calendar.

Witnesses said they heard a bang and saw a few people running, but most of the large crowd was gathered toward the back of the property and occupied with the parade at the time.

Many who had been at the event all day were surprised to hear anything had happened.

Sukhdip Singh, a Whatcom Community College student who was working as a volunteer at the event, said he was at the parade during the shooting, and that most of the crowd was busy celebrating. He said he heard that one shot was fired near the gate to the temple, but emphasized that whatever happened was not related to the event.

"This is a peaceful event," Singh said. "Such things don't happen here."

Sikhism is a monotheistic religion that originated in the Punjab region of northern India.

About an hour after the shooting, people continued to enjoy Indian food and socialize as laughing children ran around their parents at the religious celebration. Musicians continued to perform traditional music and ceremonies before the crowd as the event carried on as planned.

The Lynden temple has hosted an annual event celebrating Vaisakhi Day for at least 8 years, said Balraj Singh of Bellingham. Sikhs from all around Whatcom County and British Columbia visit the temple each year for the parade.

Reach Samantha Wohlfeil at Samantha.Wohlfeil@bellinghamherald.com.

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