Sikhs repair, reclaim temple after rampage
OAK CREEK, Wisconsin (CNN) — Members of the Sikh temple where six people died in a weekend rampage swept, scrubbed and painted over damage to their building Thursday after investigators allowed them back inside.
A lone bullet hole remained in a metal door frame, which members say won’t be repaired. The doorway leads to the main prayer area, where the only female victim — 41-year-old Paramjit Kaur — was killed.
But elsewhere, the congregation was busy polishing the tile floors, touching up patched drywall and replacing carpet, using donated supplies; and reopening the dining hall, where the SIkhs run an open kitchen for the community. Several members wept as they walked in, while others embraced.
“It takes a toll on you, thinking about the lives that were lost, when you realize our temple will never be the same again,” said Kanwardeep Singh Kaleka, whose uncle Satwant Singh Kaleka was among those dead.
Kaleka said it was hard coming back to the temple, known as a gurdwara — but members returned as soon as police allowed them, “so we can start off here tomorrow for those six people and really for the future of the world community.”
Authorities have identified the man behind the rampage as Wade Michael Page, a 40-year-old former soldier-turned-front man for a white supremacist rock band. Page killed himself in the parking lot of the suburban Milwaukee gurdwara after being shot by a police officer, the FBI said Wednesday.
Investigators say they found no clues to explain why Page went on the killing spree. But standing with the relatives of other victims, Amardeep Kaleka, the son of the congregation’s slain leader, called the killings an act of cowardice.
“Simply put, our families — his mother, who left behind two beautiful boys … our father, the four other victims, the people who were shot and are in the hospital, the police officer who did his job — they are heroes,” he said. “They were living the American dream. The other person was a coward. And at the end of the day, he should always be remembered as a coward.
In addition to the six dead, three people — two temple members and a police officer who responded to Sunday’s attack — remained hospitalized Thursday. Lt. Brian Murphy, the Oak Creek police officer shot nine times after he responded to the scene, was in satisfactory condition, Froedtert Hospital officials reported.
The condition of Santokh Singh, 50, was upgraded to serious, the hospital said. He underwent two surgeries after suffering a single gunshot wound that penetrated his chest, diaphragm, stomach and liver.
Punjab Singh, 65, suffered a single gunshot wound to the face that caused fractures and damage to his right carotid and vertebral arteries. “There is evidence he also may have subsequently suffered a stroke,” the hospital said in a statement, adding that he was on a ventilator in critical condition.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is to speak Friday at a memorial service for the victims to be held at Oak Creek High School.
The incident occurred slightly more than two weeks after a shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, left 12 people dead and 58 wounded. Civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, who visited the gurdwara on Thursday, said more massacres will come unless the United States tightens up its gun 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. “There’s some point where move from politeness to a change in policy.”
A CNN/ORC International poll released Thursday indicates that the public remains divided on gun laws, with 50% saying they favor no restrictions or only minor restrictions on firearm ownership and 48% supporting major restrictions or a complete ban by individuals except police and other authorized personnel. Those numbers are identical to where they were in 2011, and the number who support major restrictions or a complete ban has remained in the 48%-to-50% range for more than a decade.
The CNN poll was conducted by ORC International Tuesday and Wednesday, after Sunday’s shootings at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin and after last month’s shootings at a movie theater in Colorado. Pollsters surveyed 1,010 American adults, with a sampling error of three percentage points.
CNN’s Poppy Harlow and David Mattingly contributed to this report.