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Milwaukee Sikh temple slayings: Hundreds gather to mourn

August 07, 2012|By Molly Hennessy-Fiske
  • To honor victims of the Milwaukee-area temple rampage, mourners gather at a neighboring Sikh temple in Brookfield for a candlelight vigil.
To honor victims of the Milwaukee-area temple rampage, mourners gather… (M. Spencer Green / Associated…)

OAK CREEK, Wis. -- A day after a gunman's deadly rampage at a Sikh temple, several hundred mourners crowded shoulder to shoulder in the sanctuary of a neighboring temple in Brookfield.

Six members of the suburban Milwaukee temple were killed and three other people critically  wounded Sunday, including a police officer who had been aiding a victim. He was expected to survive. The gunman was also slain. 

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

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Before he addressed the crowd, Walker met privately with about two dozen Sikh men, including the brother of one of the shooting victims.

 Jagit Singh Kaleka, 67, called his brother "a martyr," saying Satwant Singh Kaleka, 65,  died defending fellow Sikhs from the gunman in the ultimate act of sacrifice.

 He remembered his brother, the temple president, as the well-behaved one among their five siblings growing up in the Punjab region of India. When his brother decided to come to the U.S. in 1982, he sponsored him. Although they faced discrimination "on a daily basis," Kaleka said, his brother never lost sight of his "American freedom dream."

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 Seeing so many people gathered to mourn his brother was heartening, Kaleka said.   Many in the crowd were non-Sikhs, some moved to tears.

 "It gives morale to the person who is down and out," Kaleka said. "It's group therapy."

 As the room filled with women in brightly colored Indian salwar suits and head scarves, men in colorful turbans sang hymns and recited prayers in Punjabi and Hindi.

Some shooting survivors were too scared to come. But others, including a woman who hid from the shooter in a temple closet, stayed for the entire hourlong service and joined in the meal that followed.

Raj Sandhu, 45, a veterinarian from Franklin, Wis., said he was glad to see several police officers posted inside and outside of the temple, as well as a Sikh relative of Kaleka's who is an FBI agent.

 "No one ever expected these kinds of things to happen in Milwaukee," Sandhu said. "But most people think it's a one-time thing. We're not afraid."

Kaleka said the service raised his spirits. His family is preparing for a Friday funeral and cremation service for his brother and some other victims, he said. Some victims' bodies will be returned to India  for funerals there, he said.

 "Hopefully these massacres don't happen again," he said.

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


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