OAK CREEK, Wis. (AP) — The children of some of the six victims killed a year ago in a shooting rampage at a Milwaukee-area Sikh temple consoled each other as they remembered their loved ones during a candlelight vigil held next to the very parking lot where two of the six people died.
They described the horror of the shooting scene and recalled the pain of seeing their loved ones’ bodies at the funeral. They also thanked community members for their support, even as they showed how much they have come to rely on each other as well.
Gurvinder Singh, 15, stood on stage with his family and gestured to a portrait of his father, Ranjit Singh, who was one of the six killed.
“I love this guy, Ranjit Singh,” Gurvinder said Monday. Then he broke down in tears, saying, “I can’t even speak today.”
He rested his head on his forearm and sobbed. Then the son of another victim joined him on stage to comfort him. Raghuvinder Singh, whose father remains nearly comatose after Page shot him in the head, hugged Gurvinder and patted his back.
Amardeep Kaleka, whose father also was killed in the rampage, then asked the audience to raise their candles and extend their light toward Gurvinder to give him strength. Gurvinder, still crying, thanked the crowd.
“When I came here (from India for the funeral) I saw two kinds of American people,” he said. “One was like Wade Michael Page, who did the shooting. Then there were the white people who helped us, they, I — I don’t know what to talk. I just love everyone. I would like to thank everyone who’s watching me, who’s watching my family. Thank you. Thank you for your love.”
Page, a white supremacist, killed five men and one woman at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin. He also wounded six others, including an Oak Creek police officer, before turning the gun on himself. FBI investigators weren’t able to figure out why he targeted Sikh worshippers he’d never met.
Oak Creek Mayor Stephen Scaffidi praised his city of 35,000 residents for showing love and support for their Sikh neighbors. About a 1,000 people attended Monday’s vigil.
“Each of us can do something, whatever that is: Talk to someone you’ve never talked to, who looks different than you, who prays differently than you,” he said. “… Oak Creek is not a city of hate, it’s a story of what all communities should do.”
All attendees covered their heads with brightly colored turbans or scarves. Many of the women wore colorful traditional Indian clothing.
The vigil brings to a close a weekend of events honoring the victims. Temple officials held several days of solemn religious observances and also organized a 6-kilometer run in honor of the six victims.
The shooting prompted an outpouring of support from around the world. Donors from the U.S., India, Canada, England and elsewhere raised more than $1.1 million for the victims’ families, many of whom left their possessions behind in India when they moved hastily to the Milwaukee area immediately following the tragedy.
The relatives, along with other temple members, never reacted publicly with anger or calls for vengeance. On the contrary, several used the tragedy as a call to action, urging community members to join them in waging peace.
Pardeep Kaleka, Amardeep’s older brother, formed an unlikely alliance with a former white supremacist. Together he and Arno Michaelis visit local middle schools and high schools, where Michaelis describes his former life of hate and Kaleka explains how that sort of hatred led to pointless bloodshed.
Other relatives have balanced their grief with the Sikh teaching of “Chardi Kala” (CHAR’-dee kuh-LAH’). The principle urges followers to remain optimistic and happy, even in the face of adversity, to show an acceptance of God’s will.
Amardeep Kaleka acknowledged how hard it was to stay optimistic after his father’s murder.
Kaleka said it took a while for his anger to subside. But it certainly helped to see hundreds of community members holding candles for the victims and sharing laughter and song with them.
“That’s how thirsty our society is for peace,” he said. “People could have stayed home and watched TV but they wanted to be here together in the name of peace.”
Dinesh Ramde can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.