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Details Emerge on Alleged Gunman in Wisconsin Sikh Temple Shooting

August 6, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
The man law enforcement officials say went on a rampage at the Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisc. was identified as Army veteran Wade Michael Page. Jeffrey Brown talks to Milwaukee Public Radio's Latoya Dennis and the Sikh Coalition's Amardeep Singh for more on the alleged gunman and the response from the Sikhs around the world.
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JEFFREY BROWN: More details emerged today about yesterday’s deadly shootings at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin.

JOHN EDWARDS, police chief, Oak Creek, Wisc.: Yesterday, at 10:25 a.m., we received our initial call from inside the Sikh temple that there was a problem going on and that somebody was firing inside of there.

JEFFREY BROWN: The gunman killed six people and critically wounded three more with a .9-millimeter handgun before being killed himself by police. This morning, he was identified as Wade Michael Page, a 40-year-old Army veteran.

Oak Creek police chief John Edwards:

JOHN EDWARDS: I know there’s much that has been put out in the media already regarding him. And some of that, we are looking at. We can say that he was in the military from 1992 to 1998. He had a general discharge, and that he was ineligible for reenlistment.

JEFFREY BROWN: Police and federal officials said they felt sure that the gunman had acted alone. They had nothing to say about a possible motive for the shootings.

But FBI special agent Teresa Carlson said the case is being treated as a possible domestic terror incident.

TERESA CARLSON, FBI: There are indicators that this could be a domestic terrorism case. We are happy to take it on. The definition of domestic terrorism is the use of force or violence for social or political gain. So that’s obviously what we’re looking at.

JEFFREY BROWN: Today, one watchdog group, the Southern Poverty Law Center, reported Page was a — quote — “frustrated neo-Nazi.” Indeed, violence against the half-a-million Sikhs in the U.S. has increased since 9/11. Some attackers assume that the turbans worn by Sikh men are Islamic symbols.

But Sikh leaders in Wisconsin today insisted they wouldn’t be intimidated.

DR. KULWANT SINGH DHALIWAL, Sikh leader: If you see a turbaned gentleman in this country, he or she is likely to be a Sikh. We like to take pride in who we are. And we like to display that with conviction.

JEFFREY BROWN: The shootings also echoed in India, where the majority of the world’s 27 million Sikhs live. There were protests in New Delhi and voices of outrage and frustration.

T.S. AHLUWALIA, India: It is very shocking that a country like the USA, which says, we are the superpower in the world, could not protect their own people in their own country. It’s shameful for USA.

JEFFREY BROWN: In Washington, President Obama offered condolences to the Oak Creek victims and appealed to Americans of all kinds to come together.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We don’t yet know fully what motivated this individual to carry out this terrible act. If it turns out, as some early reports indicate, that it may have been motivated in some way by the ethnicity of those who were attending the temple, I think the American people immediately recoil against those kinds of attitudes.

 

JEFFREY BROWN: Coming just weeks after the mass murders in Aurora, Colorado, the president called for — quote — “soul searching” about gun violence, but again stopped short of calling for new laws.

Law enforcement officials in Wisconsin said the gun used in yesterday’s shooting had been purchased legally.

 

And for more on this, we turn to LaToya Dennis, who’s covering the story for Milwaukee Public Radio, and Amardeep Singh, co-founder and director of the Sikh Coalition, the largest Sikh civil rights organization in the United States.

LaToya Dennis, starting with you, I know the details are just emerging. What more can you fill in as to the alleged gunman? What is known so far?

LATOYA DENNIS, Milwaukee Public Radio: Well, what I can tell you right now is that police — neighbors in the area where he lived say that he was a bit of a recluse. They say that he wasn’t necessarily mean, but he wasn’t a friendly guy whatsoever. He wasn’t really someone who allowed you to get to know him.

As far as what police are saying about him, they are saying that there’s not yet a motive. They are not ready to talk about that. We do know that they were at the duplex where he supposedly lived last night, and that area was cleared out for a while. People have been allowed to return home, but we don’t know if anything was uncovered there.

JEFFREY BROWN: As for the moment, though, they do feel pretty confident that he acted alone?

LATOYA DENNIS: Yes.

Yesterday, there were reports on the scene of as many as four shooters. And police say that they are pretty certain at this point that he was the lone gunman and that the reports of multiple shooters were just — it was in the heat of the moment, and people had different vantage points and no one was really sure about what was going on.

But to ensure that they did have the guy and that there was only one, the area was locked down for quite some time while SWAT came in and searched.

JEFFREY BROWN: And what did we learn — staying with you, LaToya, what did we learn today about the victims?

LATOYA DENNIS: Well, we learned that there were five men and there was one woman. And they ranged in age from I believe it was 39 to the 80s.

And, you know, it’s just a very sad time for the victims and their families. There was one police officer who was critically wounded. And I believe he was shot eight or nine times at close range. And so he is still in the hospital, along with two other people who were wounded.

JEFFREY BROWN: In fact, they described a rather dramatic scene when he arrived on the scene and trying to help one of the victims, and then was essentially — I think the word they used was ambushed.

LATOYA DENNIS: Yes, exactly.

The lieutenant, Brian Murphy, was the first person on the scene, I do believe. And he was ambushed by the gunman. He was shot again eight or nine times at close range. Other officers arrived. And they didn’t realize at that time that Officer Murphy had been shot. And, you know, they told the gunman to put down the gun. He didn’t listen.

He fired at the vehicles. And they returned fire in exchange, killing him.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, Amardeep Singh, I would like to bring you in here.

There is, of course, a lot of confusion about your community. And so I just want to ask you straightforward question. How do you define yourselves? What is a Sikh?

AMARDEEP SINGH, The Sikh Coalition: Sikh — Sikhism is a disciple. At the end of the day, the definition of a Sikh is a learner and a disciple.

And we have three core tenants for our daily lives. We believe in working hard and honestly. And in doing, we are respecting our creator. We believe in sharing our bounty with others. And then our third daily obligation is to remember God in everything we do.

So, even as I talk to you, I’m somehow in the back of my mind remembering God. As a signifier of this obligation, we wear our turban as an external uniform. Like a police officer has a uniform to remind them of their values, our turban is a constant reminder to us of our obligation to stand for justice and be compassionate and loving in our interactions with people.

JEFFREY BROWN: And in the United States, we use the number — I have seen about a half-a-million. Does that sound right? And when did most of the community come and how spread around the United States in terms of communities?

AMARDEEP SINGH: Yes. And to date — Sikhs first came to this country about 100 years ago, but there were two major population drives in the United States.

First, in the mid-1960s, when immigration law was changed to allow more people from Asia to come to the United States, there was a big population surge then. And then, in the 1980s, when there was political unrest in India involving the state of Punjab, where Sikhs reside, that also led to a large population surge.

And the Sikhs mostly live on either coast. Places like Wisconsin and the Midwest tend to have much smaller Sikh populations.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, tell us about threats against the Sikh community, especially after 9/11. Of what nature are they, to help think about the context for what happened yesterday?

AMARDEEP SINGH: Yes, just to give you a sense of it, since 9/11, our organization, The Sikh Coalition, has documented literally thousands of either hate crimes, incidents of employment discrimination, incidents of school bullying, complaints of profiling by Customs and Border Patrol, Transportation Security Administration, so sort of complaints of discrimination that run the gamut.

And what we have found is though this hate crimes, violent acts have largely dissipated, minus what happened yesterday, since 9/11, what remains and persists are less violent forms of discrimination, in particular school bullying and workplace discrimination, and that those still remain and endure.

And I believe it’s because we have had 11 years since 9/11 in which the American public when they see a turban and a beard on TV, it’s usually the image of a terrorist. And so we have created a culture in this country after 9/11 where turban equals terrorist. And Sikhs have become a collateral damage of that association.

JEFFREY BROWN: And so is it a situation where members of the Sikh community around the country work closely with law enforcement or stay in touch to — just precisely because of such incidents as you have described?

AMARDEEP SINGH: Yes.

You know, I think our law enforcement has been wonderful after 9/11. And, again, this incident is a good example of law enforcement circling the wagons, doing their job, and working to protect the community as best they can.

But I think the real problem is that we have not done enough as a community or as a country to change hearts and minds. Until folks understand that when they see a person like me, that I might be a construction worker or a gas station worker or a teacher or a lawyer or a doctor or a dentist, rather than a terrorist, until we change hearts and minds, we are going to continue to run into the problems we have seen post-9/11 with school bullying, hate crimes, employment discrimination and profiling.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, LaToya Dennis, back to you, in terms of where this goes next.

As we said, there is a lot of focus on whether the alleged gunman, Wade Michael Page, has these connections to any kind of neo-Nazi or extremist groups. What do we know so far? And what is law enforcement looking at, at this point?

LATOYA DENNIS: Well, I should say that law enforcement is not confirming this at this point, but it is being reported by the Southern Poverty Law Center that the alleged shooter did have connections to, you know, white supremacist groups and that, at one point, he was actually the lead singer of a white supremacist band called End Apathy.

Again, this is not being — you know, this is not being reported by law enforcement. But other people are digging into his background. And the Southern Poverty Law Center says that it’s been tracking the shooter since 2000 and that, you know, this is definitely the guy.

JEFFREY BROWN: And, Mr. Singh, just in our last minute here, you are there in the community. What about the local community there in the Milwaukee area? What are its concerns right now?

AMARDEEP SINGH: I think, right now, what I have noted, being an outsider, coming from New York to support the community here, is that there is a lot of shock.

My guess is that, when the funeral services start happening for the victims, we will start seeing people really starting to grieve.

But what I have noticed is a combination of shock and then a lot of gratitude for the good work of law enforcement in addressing this issue and the strong hand of the federal government, particularly the president, in reaching out to the community and conveying the nation’s support of the Sikh community in our moment of need.

JEFFREY BROWN: Amardeep Singh and LaToya Dennis, thank you both very much.

LATOYA DENNIS: Thank you.

AMARDEEP SINGH: Thank you.