Priest Dies

Baba Punjab Singh, a priest who was partially paralyzed during a shooting at an Oak Creek, Wisconsin, Sikh Temple in 2012, has died. (Oak Creek Government/Facebook photo)

An Indian American Sikh priest who was partially paralyzed during a shooting at an Oak Creek, Wisconsin, Sikh Temple in 2012 has died.

Baba Punjab Singh passed away March 2 at the age of 72.

White supremacist Wade Michael Page burst into the Sikh temple on Aug. 5, 2012, and shot 10 people, killing six and wounding four, including Singh. Page killed himself during a firefight with a police officer in the temple parking lot.

“I think, collectively as a community, (Singh's death) reopens a lot of wounds that might have scabbed over,” Pardeep Kaleka, whose father, temple president Satwant Singh Kaleka, was killed in the shooting, said in an Associated Press report. “But we express condolences to his family and just hope that they over the next couple weeks can have some closure.”

Page shot Singh through the cheek, causing a brain injury that left Singh completely paralyzed and struggling with breathing problems, according to the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner's office. He could communicate only by blinking once for “no” and twice for “yes,” Kaleka said.

Singh had been living in a Milwaukee nursing home since the shooting. His injuries left him susceptible to urinary tract infections and pneumonia, and he was in and out of hospitals dealing with complications, the medical examiner's report said.

He was admitted to a hospital in West Allis, another Milwaukee suburb, on March 1 with suspected pneumonia and a urinary tract infection, according to the report. He died March 2 afternoon. The medical examiner's office listed the cause of death as “complications of gunshot wound of the head” and the manner of death as homicide, the AP report said.

In a social media post, the City of Oak Creek government confirmed the priest's death.

"We are saddened to learn of the recent passing of Baba Punjab Singh, who was partially paralyzed after being struck by a bullet in the Aug. 5, 2012, shooting at the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek," the city wrote.

The Sikh Coalition noted in a news release that, “Today, the world remembers him as a Sikh religious teacher who lived his entire life in chardi kala.” 

The family of the deceased priest issued a statement that was distributed to media outlets by the Sikh Coalition.

“It is with sadness, but also peace and acceptance, that we confirm the passing of my father, Baba Punjab Singh,” his son Raghuvinder Singh said on behalf of the family.

“He was a beloved husband, father, and family member to us all, and equally revered by many in our community. Baba spent his life serving as a Sikh religious teacher who traveled the country and the world delivering kathas—orations that share the lessons and history of the Sikh faith. 

“Baba ji’s capacity for love and optimism was unchanged by the heinous attack in Oak Creek, as well as the life-altering injuries he sustained. Even when I regularly visited him in the hospital after his paralysis, I would ask him: ‘Are you living in chardi kala, the Sikh spirit of eternal optimism?’ Each time, without fail, he would blink twice to say ‘yes.’

“His resilience embodied the greater Sikh community’s response in the wake of the Oak Creek tragedy, and it was one of the many lessons he continually taught throughout his life,” the statement read.

“My father’s injuries and his passing, along with the other lives lost that day, are a reminder of the toxic hate that still plagues our country. But I want Baba ji to be remembered by the values, inspired by Sikhi, that he exemplified every day—including love, equality, humility, eternal optimism, and service to others.

“These values, which are critically important to our collective humanity, can bring us all closer together. Our hope is that his life serves as a reminder of an essential truth of our faith: that the number of our breaths is written by God, but it falls to us to do our best in how we use them,” the note concluded.

“It's been a rough week for everybody,” Kaleka said in the AP report. “The Sikh community is all right. We're hanging in there. We're going to be brave for the world.”

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