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Sikh temple shooting: Wisconsin gunman had a record

Wade Michael Page, who was killed, had a criminal record, was involved in the white supremacist movement and had a checkered Army career, authorities say.

August 06, 2012|Los Angeles Times
  • Members of the Oak Creek, Wis., Sikh community hold up the mug shot handed out by the FBI of Wade Michael Page after a news conference.
Members of the Oak Creek, Wis., Sikh community hold up the mug shot handed… (Darren Hauck, Getty Images )

OAK CREEK, Wis. — The gunman who killed six people at a Sikh temple had a criminal record, a history of involvement in the white supremacist movement and a checkered career in the Army, law enforcement authorities and organizations that monitor hate groups said Monday.

Nevertheless, Wade Michael Page, 40, was able to legally purchase a 9-millimeter handgun at a local gun store and was believed to have acted alone when he entered the temple in a Milwaukee suburb Sunday morning and opened fire.

"He bought it legally; he was not an ineligible person," said James Santelle, U.S. attorney for the eastern district of Wisconsin.

PHOTOS: Gunman opened fire at Sikh temple

Page's associations with right-wing extremists had drawn attention before from federal investigators, who looked into the possibility that he was providing funding to domestic terrorist groups, a senior U.S. law enforcement official said.

Investigators determined that there was not enough evidence to begin a full-scale investigation of a U.S. citizen, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The official did not elaborate on the source or nature of the alleged funding.

Page, a burly man with a goatee and prominent tattoos who played guitar in white power punk bands, was shot and killed by a police officer who emerged as one of several heroes of the tragedy. By then, Page had fatally wounded six members of the Sikh temple, known as a gurdwara, and critically wounded three other people, including a police officer ambushed while checking on a victim, officials said.

The bloodshed in Oak Creek instantly recalled the shooting that killed 12 people and wounded 58 just 16 days earlier in Aurora, Colo. Although the circumstances were quite different, both events brought terror to places that served as refuges from the turmoil and stress of the everyday world.

"It broke my heart that this thing happened, especially just a few weeks after this Aurora thing," said Shiva Singh, a member of the Sikh community from Chicago who drove in to support the Oak Creek community. "It just breaks my heart."

The dead were identified as Suveg Singh Khattra, 84; Prakash Singh, 39; Ranjit Singh, 49; Paramjit Kaur, 41; Sita Singh, 41; and temple president Satwant Singh Kaleka, 65. All but Kaur were men. Sikh men traditionally take the name Singh, meaning lion; women take the name Kaur, meaning princess.

At the two-story home Suveg Singh Khattra shared with his family, men wearing turbans sat on the floor in one room Monday while women shared the floor in another.

A farmer from India's Punjab state, Khattra and his wife came to the U.S. in 2004 and lived with their son and his family, according to his granddaughter, Sandeep Kaur Khattra, 24. A devoted worshiper, Khattra went to the temple daily, and passed time at home listening to holy readings on television and radio.

His days at the temple grew longer when his wife died in 2010, his granddaughter said, usually lasting from early morning until midafternoon.

"I think that's where he felt at peace," she said. "That's where he wanted to be."

The wounded included Police Lt. Brian Murphy, 51, who was shot eight or nine times at close range, Oak Creek Police Chief John Edwards said. He remained in critical condition Monday at Froedtert Hospital in Milwaukee, as did another victim, Santokh Singh, 50.

The shooting shattered an immigrant community that is no stranger to persecution. But Sikh leaders in Oak Creek said they were not making any assumptions about the motives behind the shooting.

"At this point, we're not prepared to say whether this is a hate crime or a random act of violence," said Bhupinder Saini, a member of the temple congregation, at a news conference. "That remains to be seen. But this has been a sad day for all of us, and it will be a sad day for days and weeks ahead."

Since Sept. 11, Sikhs, most of whom come from India, have faced some of the same challenges as American Muslims, with whom they sometimes have been confused.

Said Saini: "We'd like to view this tragedy as an opportunity to tell the world what Sikhs are. Sikhs believe in peace and harmony. As a tradition, Sikhs do not cut their beards, and they wear turbans. Just the fact that they wear turbans and do not cut their facial hair does not make them terrorists."

On Monday night, several hundred people crowded shoulder to shoulder into a Sikh temple in Brookfield, Wis., to mourn the Oak Creek victims.

"In addition to mourning with you, we support you," Gov. Scott Walker told the crowd. He wore an orange kerchief, a head covering the temple distributed to dozens of other visitors at the service. "Tonight we are here to show our love and the love you have brought to us."

At the end of the service, the crowd moved outside to a field where crickets chirped as people lighted candles and chanted prayers into the summer night.

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