Thousands to honor Sikh temple victims in Wis.

Associated Press
Members of the Sikh temple of Wisconsin wash items as they return for the first time in Oak Creek, Wis., Thursday, Aug 9, 2012.  The mass shooting last Sunday claimed six members of the temple. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)
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OAK CREEK, Wis. (AP) — Thousands of mourners are expected to pay their final respects Friday to six worshippers gunned down by a white supremacist at a Sikh temple in suburban Milwaukee over the weekend.

Organizers initially allocated two hours for a wake and visitation at a nearby high school, but they extended that by two hours to accommodate mourners who traveled from abroad and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder as a last-minute speaker. Other dignitaries expected to attend the funeral include Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan.

The service will include prayers and hymns.

Afterward, mourners plan to return to the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin where the shootings took place 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.

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 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 from about 75 feet away, 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. Workers then spent the day cleaning up, repairing bullet damage, shampooing carpets and repainting walls to rid the temple of traces of the carnage.

As children played outside and women cooked an impromptu meal in the temple's kitchen, Amardeep Kaleka, the temple president's son, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that a more positive spirit existed after the temple was cleaned.

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

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