OAK CREEK, Wis. – Hundreds of people who gathered at a Sikh temple in suburban Milwaukee spoke of unity, strength and rebirth during the first Sunday service there since a gunman killed six people before fatally shooting himself.
The service capped a weekend of events meant to honor the victims and restore the temple as a place of worship.
Visitors removed their shoes outside and filed past portraits of the victims, shuffling down a flower-lined aisle into the main prayer room. They dropped dollar bills in front of a shrine where their holy book sits and bowed for two to three seconds. Then they sat on the floor – women on the left, men on the right – their heads covered with scarves, and listened as a priest recited religious hymns.
Those at Sunday’s service included Sikhs from as far away as California and about 50 from Cleveland, who chartered a bus to make the eight-hour drive to support their community.
“It’s an emotional day but it’s getting better,” said Justice Khalsa, 41, of Milwaukee, who visits the temple three or four days a week.
“I’m smiling and laughing now, but once this group goes away and we’re back to our regular schedule, it will be haunting, I’m sure.”
Wade Michael Page, 40, killed six people and wounded four others in an ambush shortly before a service was to begin Aug. 5. He shot himself after being wounded by a police officer.
Page, an Army veteran with a record of minor alcohol-related crimes and a spotty employment history, had performed with several bands associated with white supremacists and neo-Nazi groups. Still, investigators say they may never know for certain what prompted his attack.
When relatives gathered to plan Friday’s memorial, several wanted to include a seventh empty coffin to remember Page.
“It would have sent a message that we have forgiven this man for his actions,” said Amardeep Singh, the son of one victim. “We forgave him because otherwise it would have been a thorn in our side for the rest of our lives.”
The idea was eventually scuttled, and most at the Oak Creek temple Sunday seemed content to forget about Page.
“He should not be discussed,” Khalsa said.
“People like that aren’t important. They don’t deserve attention. We’re concentrating on the people who lost their lives.”