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Sikh temple shootings: Gunman acted alone, officials say

August 06, 2012|By Molly Hennessy-Fiske and Michael Muskal

OAK CREEK, Wisc. -- A discharged Army veteran and racist advocate of white power acted alone when he attacked a Sikh temple in suburban Milwaukee and killed six people, officials said Monday.

At a news conference in Wisconsin, local and federal officials formally named the shooter as Wade Michael Page, 40, who served more than six years in the Army until he was separated with a less than honorable discharge. Page had been demoted in rank from sergeant, according to an official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

When Page’s name was announced by Oak Creek Police Chief John Edwards, a group of about 20 Sikhs who were attending the news conference began to cry.

 PHOTOS: Gunman opened fire at Sikh temple

Page was a “frustrated neo-Nazi who had been the leader of a racist white-power band,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors extreme activity.

Page told a white supremacist website in a 2010 interview that he had been part of the white power music scene since 2000, when he left his native Colorado and started the band, End Apathy, in 2005, the civil rights organization said.

Page made no mention of violence in the interview.

As new details emerged about Page’s past, officials in Wisconsin continued their investigations searching for more evidence about possible motives in the attack that killed six people attending the temple on a Sunday morning. Page was also killed by police. Three people were injured.

At a news conference where they named Page, police gave the most complete account of the events when a gunman, using a legal 9 millimeter handgun and several magazines of ammunition attacked the Sikh temple around 10:25 in the morning.

Within minutes, the first officer arrived, Edwards told reporters at a televised news conference. The officer went to “render aid and was ambushed” by the gunman who fired eight or nine shots with a handgun. Another officer fired at the suspect with a rifle ‘and put him down,'” Edwards said.

The first officer was identified as Lt. Brian Murphy, 51, with 21 years of service in the police department. Among his past assignments was as a tactical team leader for several years, Edwards said. Murphy is in critical condition.

“We are confident at this point that it was only one” shooter, Edwards said. “He is the only shooter that was involved at the temple.”

However, authorities displayed a photo of a “person of interest” they are seeking to question.

Kamardeep Kaleka, whose father, Satwant, the president of the temple, was killed in the attack, said he spotted the “person of interest” outside the temple on Sunday and reported it to police. Investigators would not comment about the man's tattoos, but Kaleka said an FBI official told him the shooter and the person of interest “have matching tattoos.”

“I think it's a highly organized operation,” Kaleka said of the attack as he left the briefing for a private meeting between investigators and members of the Sikh community.

Meanwhile authorities continued their search for a motive. Local officials said they had no contact with Page prior to Sunday’s shooting. Federal authorities said they knew of no past threats to the Sikh temple.

As part of their investigation, officials combed a neighborhood in Cudahy where Page was thought to have lived.

In June, Page called to respond to a Craigslist ad for a roommate at Kurt Weins' home in the 3700 block of East Holmes Street, the homeowner said. Weins, 48, said he had a background and employment check done and rented Page the room when he learned Page had no criminal warrants and reported employment at a nearby industrial metal shop.

In July, a vacancy opened in a one-bedroom apartment on the upper floor of a two-unit home Weins owns across the street, and Page said he wanted to move because he could move some of his things out of storage. He moved in a TV or computer monitor, a desk and a chair and seemingly little else, Weins said.

Weins said police damaged the door of the apartment Sunday during the search.

Weins was shaken to know Page had been in his house.

“It's nuts,” he said. “You check people out. They come out clean...” he said, trailing off.

Page was administratively discharged from the Army in 1998 after about six and half years of service. He joined in 1992 and did his initial training in Ft. Sill, Okla. He was later posted to Ft. Bliss in Texas before moving to Ft. Bragg, N.C., according to officials.

Page served as a repairman for the Hawk surface-to-air missile system and eventually trained as a psychological operations specialist. Army psychological operations units, or “psy-ops” units, study ways to trick the enemy in wartime and distribute information that will influence foreign populations.

Despite losing his rank, Page’s service record shows commendations and medals for basic achievement, good conduct and “humanitarian service.”

Bernard Zapor, an ATF official, said a 9 millimeter handgun with several magazines was used in the attack. He said the gun was purchased legally, but would not say by whom or whether the shooter had a concealed handgun permit.

Brian Bennett of the Tribune Washington Bureau and Chicago Tribune staff writer Dan Hinkel in Cudahy, Wis., contributed to this report.

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