Thousands mourn Sikh victims of Wisconsin massacre
Worshippers return to temple where white-supremacist gunman killed 6
Thousands of mourners, including many Canadians, paid their final respects Friday to six worshippers gunned down by a white supremacist at a Sikh temple in the U.S. almost a week ago for reasons that authorities say may never become clear.
A day after the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin opened for the first time since Sunday's attack, the mourners, many of them Indian-American from across North America, milled through a nearby school gymnasium and by the six caskets.
Ontario New Democrat MPP Jagmeet Singh, who represents the riding of Bramalea-Gore-Malton, joined the throngs of mourners in Wisconsin.
Singh said many Sikhs from Canada attended and brought symbols of support to the funeral.
"A number of youth came bearing banners, signature of solidarity and messages of love from the various guwaras in Canada," Singh said, referring to the Sikh place of worship.
He said that Sikhs on both sides of the border share a close bond and have gone throught similar experiences and problems.
"There is always a lingering feeling of vulnerability that you're not in a place that you're fully comfortable with, whether it's language barriers or whether it's just (the) time it takes to learn a place," he said in a telephone interview, adding that almost all Wisconsin Sikhs he met at the funeral had a Canadian relative or in-law.
During the funeral the caskets stood as photos of those killed flashed across a large video screen and a Sikh priest spoke in the native Indian Punjabi.
Sikh singers sang hymns and one paused to translate.
"Dear God, you have given me this body and this soul. This body is doing whatever you want me to do. You take this soul, this is your soul," he said.
Several dozen police officers stood by, watching the service. At least one covered his head in the Sikh tradition.
"We are united today not only by a shared sense of loss but by a belief in the healing power of faith," the country's top lawyer, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, told the crowd.
Kuldeep Chahal, 35, a teacher from Toronto, arrived at the temple with several others after driving 12 hours. Chahal brought banners and cards that temple members in Canada had signed for families of the victims.
"The reason we came down is because we definitely want to show the community how much we support them," Chahal said.
After the ceremony, a series of priests were to read the Sikh holy book from cover to cover at the temple in a rite honouring the dead called "Akhand Path." It takes 48 hours.
"We want to pay homage to the spirits who are still in there," said Harpreet Singh, a nephew of one of the victims.
One bullet hole in a doorway leading to the main prayer hall has been left unrepaired as a memorial to the shooting victims.
Motive remains a mystery
Federal investigators might never know for certain why 40-year-old Wade Michael Page chose to attack strangers. The Army veteran opened fire with a 9 mm pistol, killing five men and one woman and injuring two other men.
Authorities say he ambushed the first police officer who responded, shooting him nine times. A second officer shot Page in the stomach, and Page killed himself with a shot to the head.
The officer who was injured, Oak Creek Police Lt. Brian Murphy, was upgraded Thursday to satisfactory condition.
The dead included Satwant Singh Kaleka, 65, the temple president, who was shot as he tried to fend off Page with a butter knife.
The other victims included:
- Ranjit Singh, 49, and his 41-year-old brother, Sita Singh, two priests whose families were back in India and whose lives in America revolved around their faith;
- Suveg Singh Khattra, 84, a former farmer in India who was a constant presence at the temple;
- Prakash Singh, 39, a priest who was remembered as a fun-loving personality who enjoyed telling jokes; and
- Paramjit Kaur, 41 who worked 66 hours a week to provide for her family, but also found time to pray every day for at least an hour.
The FBI roped off the temple for four days while agents conducted their investigation. They handed the keys back to Sikh leaders Thursday morning.