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Wisconsin Gurdwara Holds First Service Since Deadly Attack

The Sikh Temple of Wisconsin opened its doors again last week after a gunman stormed through the place of worship, killing six people.
  • OAK CREEK, Wisconsin, United States

    Grieving members of the Sikh community held their first service Aug. 12 at the gurdwara here since the killing of six worshippers by a white supremacist a week ago and offered prayers for the victims.

    The mourners assembled inside the prayer hall of the gurdwara on Sunday, bowed before the Guru Granth Sahib and chanted hymns and prayed for the six worshippers who were killed in the shootout inside the gurdwara last Sunday.

    They also prayed for the quick recovery of the three individuals who were injured in the tragic incident including the police officer who fought the neo-nazi gunman.

    Wade Michael Page, 40, an ex-army veteran, went on a shooting spree killing six Sikhs and injuring three others, including a police officer, at the gurdwara here last Sunday before dying of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

    Those attending the Sunday service said the ceremony involved cleaning up the pole which had a flag on top. Outside, community members raised the American flag from half-staff and hoisted a new Sikh flag in an elaborate ritual, surrounded by hundreds who had come from across the country.

    The service included devotional hymns and prayers and the closing of the Sikh holy book. The holy book has been read in its entirety over the past three days. Women sang hymns as a group lowered a flag pole outside the gurdwara here.

    The pole which was covered with orange cloth was first removed by about 50 men and boys. Thereafter the pole was washed with water and milk. The pole was finally wrapped with a new orange cloth.

    "The six people who died were some of the most beloved people here," said Kanwardeep Kaleka, whose uncle Satwant Singh Kaleka was among those killed in the incident.

    "That they died in this house of God brings us even more peace," he was quoted as saying by the local media.

    The gurdwara was opened for the public Aug. 10, six days after the deadly shooting, with over 100 community members returning to clean it ahead of the funeral for the victims. 

    The community members on Friday had decided that a lone bullet hole in a metal door frame at the gurdwara, will remain there as a poignant reminder of the tragedy. Beneath it they installed a small gold plate engraved with “We Are One. 8-5-12.”

    Many young men and women travelled from as far away as Canada to volunteer for the day.

    “It's an emotional day but it's getting better,' said Justice Khalsa, 41, of Milwaukee, who visits the temple three or four days a week. ``I'm smiling and laughing now, but once this group goes away and we're back to our regular schedule, it will be haunting, I'm sure.'

    “We will put a plaque here,” Harpreet Singh, the nephew of one of the victims, said Aug. 10. “We will make sure they are never forgotten.”

    Members showed The Associated Press the small hole during an exclusive tour of the temple. While most other physical reminders of the horror have been scrubbed or painted away, temple members said they could still feel the spirits of those who died.

    The carnage could have been much worse, Singh said. At the first sound of gunfire outside, two children raced into the kitchen and warned people to take cover. Eleven-year-old Abhay Singh and his 9-year-old sister, Amanat Singh were talking and joking around outside the Oak Creek temple as their family prepared to celebrate Amanat's birthday. Thirteen women were there preparing meals for the day, crammed into a pantry.

    The pantry, a side room off the main kitchen, has only enough standing room for about three or four people comfortably. But the 16 waited in petrified silence for almost two hours, doing their best to ignore the smoke wafting throughout the room from food burning on the stove.

    Page's view of the pantry was probably blocked by the large refrigerator near its entrance, Singh said. “Otherwise who knows what would have happened,' he said.

    — With PTI and AP reports




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