Memorial Service Held For Wis. Sikh Shooting Victims

Aug 10, 2012
Originally published on August 10, 2012 5:47 pm
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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block. In Oak Creek, Wisconsin, today, more than 2,000 people came to mourn the victims of a mass shooting at the city's Sikh temple last weekend. Six people were killed and three wounded when Wade Michael Page opened fire on worshipers.

Erin Toner of member station WUWM in Milwaukee reports on today's memorial service.

ERIN TONER, BYLINE: Car after car streamed into the parking lot here at Oak Creek High School, less than two miles from the Sikh temple where the six worshipers were killed. In all 2,500 people came here from the local community, from other states, India, Canada and many other countries.


TONER: As music played and prayers were read over loudspeakers, visitors wearing turbans or scarves on their heads walked slowly past six open caskets, stopping to look at the bodies and photos of those lost projected on a large screen. They prayed and they wept.

The temple president, 65-year-old Satwant Singh Kaleka, was one of the victims and his son, Amardeep Kaleka, says the turnout was overwhelming.

AMARDEEP KALEKA: I think it's definitely comforting when so many people can share in your pain or loss and come and tell you that personally and the human touch, the hug, the handshake. When somebody goes and touches my father's feet, I think that's always comforting for every human.

TONER: Nineteen-year-old Shehbazdeep Kaleka is one of Satwant Singh Kaleka's nephews. He says he loved his uncle dearly.

SHEHBAZDEEP KALEKA: Every time when I used to see him, no matter if I was sad or - I'd be so happy when I'd hear his voice and he would give me advice. I loved listening to him.

TONER: The other victims included two priests: 41-year-old Sita Singh and 39-year-old Prakash Singh. Ranjit Singh, who was 49, Suveg Singh Khatra, 84 years old and one woman, 41-year-old Paramjit Kaur. They leave behind spouses, children and grandchildren and an entire Sikh community in mourning. Amarjit Singh, who's a member of the temple, said it was hard to return there yesterday after authorities cleared the crime scene.

AMARJIT SINGH: Bullet holes everywhere, but we tried just to clean up everything, but still, you know, when we see that, it was a big - it's like, you know, half inch holes.

TONER: Singh says it's part of the Sikh faith to try to avoid anger and fear and to believe everything that happens is part of God's plan. Outside of the high school, mourners waited in long lines in the rain. Judy Price of Oak Creek was one of the first visitors to pay her respects.

JUDY PRICE: It's just that this is such a tragedy for the whole community and our hearts go out to the families and it's unfortunate.

TONER: Following the visitation, a formal ceremony was held to honor the victims. Family members spoke about their loved ones and the temple's new president asked God for courage for those left behind. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told mourners that violence against the Sikh community has become all too common in recent years.

ERIC HOLDER: Too many Sikhs have been targeted and victimized simply because of who they are, how they look and what they believe. That is wrong. It is unacceptable and it will not be tolerated.

TONER: After the service, the families of the victims gathered privately. In accordance with Sikh tradition, all of the bodies will be cremated. For NPR News, I'm Erin Toner in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.