Thousands of people joined together in Oak Creek, Wisconsin to remember the six Sikh victims shot dead last Sunday during religious services by a white supremacist ex-Army member.
Family members, friends, political leaders and Sikhs from as far away as Canada gathered in the Oak Creek High School gymnasium to pray and mourn the five male and one female victims and the three people still left in the hospital.
Three Sikh members in dark turbans of the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin accompanied the six coffins, which displayed with large framed photos of the victims.
"You have taken this life. This is your will," one prayer leader said to the gathered crowd, which reached nearly 3,000 at its peak. "We accept your will. Please give us strength to bear this loss."
Also speaking at the memorial, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said the temple members truly lived out the spirit of civil rights leader and man of faith Martin Luther King, Jr., by not responding to the horrific act of violence with hatred or vengeance.
"This week, our friends and neighbors in the Sikh community have shown us the best way to respond is with love," Walker said.
After the memorial Friday, temple leaders planned to read the entire Sikh holy book from cover-to-cover, a traditional ceremony called the "Akhand Path" which takes about 48 hours.
Early last Sunday, 40-year-old former soldier Wade Michael Page entered the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin during morning prayers and opened fire on the congregation.
One of the dead mourned today, temple President Satwant Singh Kaleka was killed Sunday by trying to fend off Page with the only weapon he could find - a butter knife from the temple's kitchen.
When police responded to the scene, over two dozen women and children were crammed into the temple's small pantry, some injured, unaware of the shooter's whereabouts.
Page responded to the police presence by shooting the first responding officer, 21-year police veteran Brian Murphy, nine times. After being shot in the stomach by another officer, Page turned the gun on himself and ended his life.
Murphy, along with two other members of the temple, remain in hospital. Murphy's status was updated from critical to satisfactory on Thursday.
The other five victims included brothers Ranjit, 49 and Sita Singh, 41, former farmer Suveg Singh Khattra, 84, priest Prakash Singh, 39 and working mother Paramjit Kaur, 41.
The Singh brothers and Khattra were all born in India and moved to the U.S. as immigrants. Most of Ranjit and Sita's family members remain abroad.
Police closed the temple this week through Thursday to perform a thorough forensics review of the scene. Once re-opened, volunteers and temple members went to work cleaning, re-carpeting and re-painting the temple for continued use. They decided to leave one bullet hole untouched, as a reminder of the tragedy and those lost.
Investigators say the motive behind Page's crime might never be fully known, as he didn't leave behind any explanation or diatribe. The only clue to his leanings come from his intense involvement in white supremacist bands and political groups.
Page was a member of at least two skinhead bands and frequently posted messages on white supremacist internet forums urging others to be more active and involved.
Photos of Page playing the bass can be seen on the MySpace page of "Definite Hate," a skinhead band whose album covers feature racist hand-drawn sketches such as a white hand punching a black man and a noose with Confederate flag in the background.
Page was also a member of the skinhead band "End Apathy" and sported multiple tattoos, including one of the number 14, standing for the popular supremacist statement "14 words" - "We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children."
Page was discharged from the Army in 1998 after serving for six years, first as a Hawk missile system repairman and later as a psychological operations trainee at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina.
Army spokesman George Wright said he was never deployed overseas in the psych ops role. He was discharged for getting drunk on duty and going AWOL. He was not eligible for re-enlistment. Since the shooting, fellow Army members have come forwarded and said Page exhibited racist tendancies even during his time in uniform.
After working for a trucking company from 2006 until 2010, from which he was also fired for being drunk, Page moved to the Milwaukee suburb of Cudahy, renting a room and keeping mostly to himself. He remained largely off radar until the shooting Sunday.
Page legally purchased the Springfield 9mm semiautomatic handgun at the Shooter's Shop in Milwaukee. At the temple's clean-up Thursday, civil rights leader Reverend Jesse Jackson said the shooting, and another one two weeks earlier in which 12 moviegoers were killed by a lone gunman in Aurora, Colorado, showed the necessity for stricter gun control laws.
"It's easy to be polite to say 'We're so sorry this happened' and give the same speech at the next killing a month from now," Jackson said. Now, it's time for a "change in policy" he added.
Even if stricter gun control laws are not enacted, members of Congress are already calling for an investigation into the temple shooting. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) sent a letter on Wednesday to Attorney General Eric Holder to look into this and other incidents of violence against Sikhs in America.
Specifically, she said a task force needed to be set up to "determine if additional law enforcement resources need to be put into place" to protect them, and "establish procedures to address incidences impacting targeted communities based on race or religion."
Even before the shooting, Rep. Joe Crowley (D-New York) and 90 other House members called for an investigation into crimes against Sikhs, especially in Michigan, California, New York and Virginia.
"Given that this discrete community is so acutely susceptible to hate violence in the United States," the lawmakers wrote, "we believe it is critically important for authorities to devise means of tracking crimes committed against Sikhs."
Although they are not Muslims, the adherents to the Sikh faith - the fifth largest religion in the world with 30 million members - are often mistaken for Arabs or Muslims because the men wear turbans and have long beards.
Sikhism is a monotheistic faith which espouses universal equality of all people regardless of color, caste, race, gender or religion. The Sikh holy book, or Guru Granth Sahib, contains teachings from multiple religions including Hinduism and Sufism (Islamic mysticism).
by RTT Staff Writer
For comments and feedback: email@example.com