Hundreds gather for Sikh temple shooting memorial

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by Associated Press

khou.com

Posted on August 10, 2012 at 7:55 PM

OAK CREEK, Wis. (AP) -- Hundreds of people streamed into a Wisconsin high school Friday to pay their final respects to six worshippers gunned down by a white supremacist at a Sikh temple in suburban Milwaukee.

Somber, tearful mourners, most wearing scarves on their heads in the Sikh tradition, greeted victims’ family members with hugs at the Oak Creek High School gymnasium. Flowers adorned the six open caskets and a large video screen flashed photos of those killed and injured.

Mourners took their seats as Sikh singers sang hymns in Punjabi, an Indian dialect. One of the singers paused to translate some lyrics into English.

“Dear God, you have given me this body and this soul. This body is doing whatever you want me to do. You take this soul, this is your soul,” he said.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder applauded the Sikh community, saying they responded without violence despite witnessing the worst of humankind.

“You’ve inspired the best of who we are,” Holder said.

Federal investigators may never know why 40-year-old Wade Michael Page chose to attack strangers in a holy place. What they do know is that the Army veteran opened fire with a 9 mm pistol at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, shortly before Sunday services were due to begin.

Page killed five men and one woman, and injured two other men. Authorities say he then ambushed the first police officer who responded, shooting him nine times and leaving him in critical condition. A second officer then shot Page in the stomach, and Page took his own life with a shot to the head.

Violence against Sikhs is becoming too frequent, Holder told the mourners Friday.

“That is wrong, it is unacceptable and it will not be tolerated,” he said.

Several dozen police officers stood by in the gym, watching the service.

Gov. Scott Walker told mourners that the Sikh community has shown that the best way to respond to hatred is with love.

“Today we mourn with you, we pray with you, we support you,” Walker said.

Pardeep Singh Kaleka, the son of the slain temple president Satwant Singh Kaleka, said his father was selfless, often telling him that “you make a living by what you make, but you make a life by what you give.”

Kaleka, 65, was shot as he tried to fend off Page with a butter knife.

Mourners were expected to later return to the temple where priests would read the Sikh holy book from cover to cover in a traditional rite honoring the dead called “Akhand Path.” That process takes 48 hours.

“We want to pay homage to the spirits who are still in there,” said Harpreet Singh, a nephew of one of the victims.

The FBI roped off the temple for four days while agents conducted their investigation. They handed the keys back to Sikh leaders Thursday morning, allowing worshippers to replace blood-stained carpets and apply fresh paint to some walls. One bullet hole in a door jamb leading to the main prayer hall was left unrepaired as a memorial to the shooting victims.

Kuldeep Chahal, 35, a Sikh teacher, drove for 12 hours to attend the ceremony Friday and show support for the community. Chahal brought banners and cards that members of his temple in Toronto, Canada, had signed for families of the victims.

The officer who was injured, Oak Creek Police Lt. Brian Murphy, was upgraded Thursday to satisfactory condition.

Aside from Kaleka, the dead included:

Ranjit Singh, 49, and his 41-year-old brother, Sita Singh, two priests whose families were back in India and whose lives in America revolved around their faith;

Suveg Singh Khattra, 84, a former farmer in India who was a constant presence at the temple;

Prakash Singh, 39, a priest who was remembered as a fun-loving personality who enjoyed telling jokes; and

Paramjit Kaur, 41 who worked 66 hours a week to provide for her family, but also found time to pray every day for at least an hour.

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