OAK CREEK, Wis. – They removed the bloodstained carpeting, repaired shattered windows and painted over gunfire-scarred walls. But Sikh Temple of Wisconsin members left a single bullet hole to mark the memory of a white supremacist’s deadly rampage.
As thousands Friday mourned the six victims gunned down before a prayer service, the temple’s members worked late the previous night to remove all but the one trace of the shooting. The waist-high bullet hole in a door jamb near the main prayer room was left as a memorial to the six slain worshippers.
“We will put a plaque here,” Harpreet Singh, the nephew of one of the victims, said Friday. “We will make sure they are never forgotten.”
Members showed the Associated Press the dime-size 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.
Army veteran Wade Michael Page used a 9 mm pistol Sunday to kill five men, one woman and wound three other people, including a police officer, in the ambush on the temple. He took his own life after exchanging gunfire with officers.
At Oak Creek High School on Friday, lines of mourners wound deep into the parking lot for the service in the gymnasium, where the six victims’ bodies lay in open wooden caskets adorned with red and white flowers. Musicians sang religious hymns in front of a large video screen flashing photos of those killed and injured, as mourners, wearing head scarves in the Sikh tradition, greeted relatives with hugs.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told mourners the rampage was an attack not only on Sikhs but on American values. He also applauded the Sikh community for not responding to the attack with violence.
“You’ve inspired the best of who we are,” Holder said.
Children of other victims also spoke, saying the one comfort they drew from their parents’ deaths was that the killing happened in a temple, where God was near to accept them.
The victims included temple president Satwant Singh Kaleka, 65, who was shot as he tried to fend off Page with a small knife. Pardeep Kaleka remembered his father as a selfless man who often told him, “You make a living by what you make, but you make a life by what you give.”
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