Bloomberg, Others Condemn Wisconsin Sikh Temple Shooting
NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) – Investigators could be at the scene of the deadly shooting rampage at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin for most of the week, collecting evidence about the tragedy that left six people dead.
Police have also stepped up security at Sikh temples across New York City and Long Island. Earlier Monday, authorities released new details about the shooting and the alleged shooter.
The suspected shooter has been identified as 40-year-old Wade Michael Page, an ex-Army soldier and former leader of a white supremacist heavy metal band. Authorities said Page strode into the temple in Oak Creek, Wis., Sunday without saying a word and opened fire.
“Our investigators are following up on all leads that we have — to give you a motive at this time would be premature,” Oak Creek Police Chief John Edwards said.
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The U.S. Army said Page enlisted in 1992 and was discharged in 1998. He served at Fort Bliss in Psychological Operations. When he left the military, he was declared ineligible to re-enlist.
Page was a “frustrated neo-Nazi” who led a racist white supremacist band, the Southern Poverty Law Center said Monday.
The FBI asked for the public’s help Monday in finding a man who was at the scene of the Sunday shooting. They showed his picture of at a news conference.
Hours later, FBI spokesman Leonard Peace said the person had been identified, interviewed and ruled out as being connected to the shooting. Peace did not have any other details.
LOCAL OFFICIALS REACT
While there’s still no official word on the motive for the shooting, leaders in New York City condemned the attack. Speaking at a news conference Monday afternoon, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said there is “no tolerance for intolerance.”
“I think it’s fair to say New Yorkers of every faith join the Sikh community in praying for the recovery of those gravely wounded in that terrible attack,” he said.
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Public Advocate Bill de Blasio also issued a statement, calling the shooting a “terrible tragedy.”
“My prayers are with Wisconsin’s Sikh community and with ours here in New York as they weather this terrible tragedy,” he said. “This was an act of naked hatred meant to isolate and victimize the Sikh community.”
SHOCK, SADNESS IN SIKH COMMUNITY
Members of the Sikh community gathered Monday at the Sikh Cultural Society in Richmond Hill, Queens to pray for the victims as police officers stood guard at the front door.
Among those killed Sunday was 77-year-old Suvez Khatra, the uncle of Mohan Singh Katra from Queens.
Katra said his uncle was “very devoted to his temple.”
“It is very sorrowful and very sad that the incident happened in Wisconsin,” one man told 1010 WINS’ Glenn Schuck. “I’m sure the whole community is praying for the victims. As a community, as Americans, we’ll get over this like any other incident.”
“We are very upset,” another told WCBS 880′s Alex Silverman. “We are never hurt like this in our life.”
“We feel very, very, very deeply sad because it happened inside the worship,” Gurdev Singh Kang, president of the Sikh Cultural Society, told WCBS 880′s Jim Smith.
The NYPD said the increased patrols at nearly a dozen Sikh temples was “out of an abundance of caution,” but said there are no known threats.
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“We have no information that indicates a threat to Sikh temples here in New York City,” Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said Monday. “But I can assure that we are going to continue to monitor this issue and we’re going to keep our presence at these locations in place and we’ll make that determination on a day-to-day basis.”
Parishioners said the extra security is both a welcoming presence and an unsettling one.
“They don’t want anything to happen here which probably will more feed into the paranoia,” Harpreet Singh Toor told CBS 2′s Kathryn Brown.
“We feel more protected there in the presence of almighty God and that’s the thinking when we come to God,” said worshipper Akal Singh.
In Nassau County, police have also stepped up patrols at religious institutions, calling the measure “strictly precautionary.”
NEW DETAILS REVEALED ABOUT WIS. SHOOTING
Witnesses in Wisconsin said the gunman walked into the Sikh temple in suburban Milwaukee and opened fire as several dozen people prepared for Sunday services.
Satpal Kaleka, wife of the temple’s president, Satwant Singh Kaleka, was in the front room and saw the gunman enter the temple, according to Harpreet Singh, their nephew.
“He did not speak, he just began shooting,” said Singh, relaying a description of the attack from Satpal Kaleka.
When the shooting ended, six victims ranging in age from 39 to 84 years old lay dead, as well as Page. Three others were critically wounded, officials said.
Amardeep Kaleka, the son of the temple’s president, said his father died trying to stop the attacker.
“My father, by engaging the shooter, saved a tremendous amount of more hardship because people were able to get to cover,” Kaleka said.
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“We never thought this could happen to our community,” said Devendar Nagra, 48, of Mount Pleasant, whose sister escaped injury by hiding as the gunman fired in the temple’s kitchen. “We never did anything wrong to anyone.”
The first officer to respond was 51-year-old Lt. Brian Murphy, a 21-year veteran of the Oak Creek Police Department, Police Chief Edwards said Monday.
Murphy, a Queens native, was shot eight to nine times with a handgun as the officer tended to a victim outside, police said. A second officer then exchanged gunfire with the suspect, who was then fatally shot.
Kelly said Monday that Murphy is the brother of a recently retired NYPD cop.
Murphy was in critical condition along with two other victims, authorities said.
At a news conference Monday, ATF Special Agent in Charge Bernard Zapor said Page used a legally purchased 9mm handgun and multiple ammunition magazines in the shooting.
Sikhs for Justice, a national human rights organization, called the shooting a “tragic incident.”
In a statement Monday, the group applauded what it called “the heroic action of officers from the Oak Creek Police Department” and said they will be giving $10,000 to the wounded officer.
The FBI, which was leading the investigation because the shootings are being treated as domestic terrorism, said it had no reason to believe anyone other than Page was involved.
Survivors, witnesses and victims’ families are now beginning to cope with an unfathomable loss.
“Every time I go to temple, I’m going to think of this and it’s so unfortunate that that’s the case,” said temple member Maleen Rajput. “I have to think of a tragedy.”
SIKHS BECOME TARGET AFTER 9/11
The Sikh religion started in northern India about 500 years ago. It has roughly 27 million followers worldwide. There are about 500,000 Sikhs in the U.S., according to estimates.
Sikh rights groups have reported a rise in bias attacks since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
The Sikh Coalition has reported more than 700 hate crimes in the U.S. since 9/11 and has fielded complaints in the thousands from Sikhs about workplace discrimination and racial profiling.
“There were acts of vandalism and there were definitely hate crimes as well as a murder in the days following 9/11,” said Sapreet Kaur, executive director of the Sikh Coalition.
With their turbans and long beards, Sikhs are often mistaken for Muslims or Arabs, and have inadvertently become targets of anti-Muslim bias in the United States.
“They think because it’s kind of similar, we are mistaken,” said Shamindel Sandhu, a member of the Sikh Cultural Society. “But even for them, it’s not right. Why should, for one person, everybody be blamed. They should look for the guilty and punish the guilty, but not the whole community.”
Kaur said Sunday’s shooting is a reminder of continued security concerns.
“We ask all our community members at all times to be vigilant if they feel that they’re in a threatening situation at all,” he said.
But despite the shooting, Kaur said Sikhs across the country will open their houses of worship on Sunday so anyone can come and learn about their religion.
“It really is through this interfaith dialogue that we learn to be Americans together,” Kaur said.
Valarie Kaur, who chronicled violence against Sikh Americans in the 2006 documentary “Divided We Fall,” said the shootings reopened wounds in a community whose members have found themselves frequent targets of hate-based attacks since Sept. 11.
“We are experiencing it as a hate crime,” she said. “Every Sikh American today is hurting, grieving and afraid.”
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