Hundreds gather for Sikh temple shooting memorial

Associated Press
Mourners grieve at the funeral and memorial service for the six victims of the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin mass shooting in Oak Creek, Wis., Friday, Aug 10, 2012. The public service was held in the Oak Creek High School. Three other people were wounded in the shooting last Sunday at the temple. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)
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OAK CREEK, Wis. (AP) — Hundreds of people streamed into a Wisconsin high school Friday to pay their final respects to six worshippers gunned down by a white supremacist at a Sikh temple in suburban Milwaukee.

Mourners, most with scarves on their heads in the Sikh tradition, greeted victims' family members with hugs inside the Oak Creek High School gymnasium, where six caskets stood as a large video screen flashed photos of those killed.

A wake and visitation at the school initially scheduled to last for two hours was extended by another two in order to accommodate mourners who traveled from abroad and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder as a last-minute speaker. Other dignitaries expected to attend include Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan.

After a service spoken at times in the native Indian Punjabi that will include prayers and hymns, mourners plan to return to the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin where the six died and three others were critically wounded Sunday morning. There, a series of priests will read the Sikh holy book from cover to cover in a traditional rite honoring the dead called "Akhand Path." That process takes 48 hours.

"We want to pay homage to the spirits who are still in there," said Harpreet Singh, a nephew of one of the victims.

Earlier Friday, about two dozen worshippers milled around the temple, where blood-stained carpet had been replaced and some walls had been freshly painted by members allowed inside the day before.

One bullet hole in a door jamb leading to the main prayer hall was left unrepaired as a memorial to the shooting victims.

Kuldeep Chahal, 35, a Sikh teacher from Toronto, arrived at the temple Friday with several other people after driving 12 hours. Chahal brought banners and cards that temple members in Canada had signed for families of the victims.

"The reason we came down is because we definitely what to show the community how much we support them," Chahal said.

Federal investigators might never know for certain why 40-year-old Wade Michael Page chose to attack total strangers in a holy place. What they do know is that the Army veteran opened fire with a 9 mm pistol at the temple, shortly before Sunday services were due to begin.

Page killed five men and one woman, and injured two other men. Authorities say he then ambushed the first police officer who responded, shooting him nine times and leaving him in critical condition. A second officer then shot Page in the stomach, and Page took his own life with a shot to the head.

The officer who was injured, Oak Creek Police Lt. Brian Murphy, was upgraded Thursday to satisfactory condition.

The dead included Satwant Singh Kaleka, 65, the temple president who was shot as he tried to fend off Page with a butter knife.

The other victims included:

— Ranjit Singh, 49, and his 41-year-old brother, Sita Singh, two priests whose families were back in India and whose lives in America revolved around their faith;

— Suveg Singh Khattra, 84, a former farmer in India who was a constant presence at the temple;

— Prakash Singh, 39, a priest who was remembered as a fun-loving personality who enjoyed telling jokes; and

— Paramjit Kaur, 41 who worked 66 hours a week to provide for her family, but also found time to pray every day for at least an hour.

The FBI roped off the temple for four days while agents conducted their investigation. They handed the keys back to Sikh leaders Thursday morning.

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Dinesh Ramde can be reached at dramde(at)ap.org.

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