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Before suicide, Sikh temple gunman was felled by 'amazing shot'

August 08, 2012|By Molly Hennessy-Fiske
  • Oak Creek Police Chief John O. Edwards speaks at a news briefing about the mass shooting at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.
Oak Creek Police Chief John O. Edwards speaks at a news briefing about the… (Tom Lynn / Associated Press )

MILWAUKEE -- The gunman who killed six people at a Sikh temple near here on Sunday may have died by his own hand, but only after he was wounded by a police officer's well-aimed shot.

Investigators credited an Oak Creek, Wis., police officer with shooting Wade Michael Page, 40, in the abdomen, seriously wounding Page before the gunman shot himself in the head.

"I’ve seen the video -- it was an amazing shot," Teresa Carlson, FBI special agent in charge of the Milwaukee division, said Wednesday at a briefing in reference to police camera footage of the shooting.

PHOTOS: Gunman opens fire at Sikh temple

The officer was about 75 yards from Page when he fired his weapon, according to a shooting chronology included in autopsy reports released Wednesday. Carlson said that wound probably would have been fatal.

Citing the ongoing internal investigation into Page's shooting, investigators declined to identify the officer responsible for the shot and said that he would not be immediately available for comment.

But the Wisconsin Professional Police Assn., the Madison-based police union representing the officer during the department’s investigation, identified him as Sam Lenda, a 32-year veteran of the Oak Creek Police Department.

Oak Creek Police Chief John Edwards has described the officer who shot Page as a "tactical expert," and a union spokesman said Lenda was especially skilled with firearms.

“Not only is he experienced, he also serves as a firearms instructor at a local technical college,” Jim Palmer, the union's executive director, told the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday.

WHO THEY WERE: Sikh temple shooting victims

According to autopsy reports for the six shooting victims, Page shot his first victims outside the temple and then proceeded inside; there, he shot and killed four people in various parts of the building.  The reports were released Wednesday by the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner's Office. 

Oak Creek Police Lt. Brian Murphy, 51, another department veteran, was shot and seriously wounded as he attempted to help one of two victims outside the temple, where Page also died.

Page's autopsy report is being withheld at the request of prosecutors, medical examiner's staff said, and officials would not comment on what firearm was used to shoot him.

Murphy and two other shooting victims remained hospitalized in critical condition at Froedtert Hospital in Wauwatosa, Wis., on Wednesday, a hospital spokeswoman said.

Friends and former students of Lenda at Milwaukee Area Technical College, or MATC, voiced their pride online Wednesday as news spread of his heroics.

"Lenda was my firearms instructor for the MATC police program. The most squared-away guy you could meet. All business. Mr. Lenda, you have done all of my fellow students proud by overcoming and stopping the threat. Thank you!," Adam Fredricksen wrote on Facebook.

Tim Talaska, a fellow instructor in the college’s criminal justice/law enforcement division, said he spoke with Lenda briefly on Monday and told him he did a good job.

“He sounded good -- he had a good mental attitude,” Talaska said, adding that Lenda confirmed he had fired the shot that wounded Page.

Talska said Lenda, who grew up in the South Milwaukee area and has been an instructor in basic SWAT and sniper training at the college for years, was a “very serious-minded instructor, very knowledgeable” with “extensive training in SWAT tactics and firearms.”

Talsaska said he was not surprised that Lenda was able to hit Page from so far away, likely with a squad rifle, he said.

“That’s a real manageable distance for somebody that’s a trained shooter,” Talaska said.

He said the more difficult call often is not whether to shoot a suspect, but how to shoot him or her -- using just enough deadly force to stop the person.

“It sounds like Sam did exactly that — he fired one shot and it put the man down; he certainly did not use excessive force,” said Talaska, who retired as a South Milwaukee police officer after 27 years.

Palmer said he had spoken with Lenda since the shooting, and that the officer was humble about his quick thinking that day at the temple.

“Officer Lenda has made clear to us that he’s not interested in being portrayed as a hero," Palmer said. "He simply considers himself someone who was doing his job, and he’s confident his fellow officers would have acted the same way."

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Join Molly on Google+ and Twitter @mollyhf. Email: molly.hennessy-fiske@latimes.com

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