On Sunday morning, a gunman attacked the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek, murdering six people and wounding three others before the police killed him. Satwant Singh Kaleka, the president of the temple, was one of the victims, slain as he was preparing to address the temple assembly.
It looks as if the gunman was brought down by a heroic cop he had already wounded, leading to high praise from the Oak Creek Police Chief: “This officer stopped a tragic event that could have been a lot worse.” It appears that a single 9mm semi-automatic handgun was used in the attack.
Authorities have been cautious about releasing information on the case, but a few details have leaked through the media. CNN reported on Monday morning that the shooter was named Wade Michael Page, 40 years of age, and apparently an Army veteran. ABC News swiftly reported that Page was a “white supremacist” or “skinhead” based on his appearance and tattoos, and authorities were treating the attack as an incident of “domestic terrorism” with a political agenda, although the body of the ABC report makes it clear all of these details were still under investigation Monday morning. It’s interesting how quickly “domestic terrorism” was brought into the discussion, since the authorities have been notably reluctant to use the term in other situations.
The exact motive for the shooting is a matter of much speculation. Some reports have suggested the shooter might have been distraught after a recent breakup with his girlfriend. According to CNN, eyewitnesses inside the temple spotted a “9/11 tattoo on one arm,” which a temple member said “implies to me that there’s some level of hate crime here.” CNN notes that “Sikh men are often confused with Muslims, and they have been the targets of hate crimes since the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington.”
Assuming the killer retained a shred of sanity, the odds of his inadvertently confusing Sikhs with Muslims would seem to be reduced by the fact that he attacked a clearly-labeled Sikh temple. In fact, there is considerable history of both philosophical and physical conflict between Sikhism and Islam, particularly in Afghanistan, where the Sikhs have been targets of Taliban persecution. More details from the official investigation should be released on Monday, perhaps shedding further light upon the killer’s motives.
Both President Obama and his rival in the upcoming election, Mitt Romney, released statements of sympathy and support. “Michelle and I were deeply saddened to learn of the shooting that tragically took so many lives in Wisconsin,” said Obama. “At this difficult time, the people of Oak Creek must know that the American people have them in our thoughts and prayers, and our hearts go out to the families and friends of those who were killed and wounded. My administration will provide whatever support is necessary to the officials who are responding to this tragic shooting and moving forward with an investigation. As we mourn this loss which took place at a house of worship, we are reminded how much our country has been enriched by Sikhs, who are a part of our broader American family.”
“Ann and I extend our thoughts and prayers to the victims of today’s shooting in Wisconsin,” said Romney. “This was a senseless act of violence and a tragedy that should never befall any house of worship. Our hearts are with the victims, their families and the entire Oak Creek Sikh community. We join Americans everywhere in mourning those who lost their lives and in prayer for healing in the difficult days ahead.”