OAK CREEK – Narinder Boparai wept, leaning heavily on the support pillars of the Oak Creek Police Department. Inside the building, flanked by congregation members, Harbans Singh Harwaha had to pause at times to collect his thoughts as they recalled the horror of watching friends die.
The two were witnesses to the havoc caused Sunday morning in Oak Creek by Wade Michael Page, a former Army sergeant who opened fire at the Sikh Temple, killing six and wounding several others.
Harwaha was in the kitchen of the temple when children came running in from outside saying someone was shooting. Harwaha, who is near 70, quickly ushered his wife, about six children and five other adults in the basement before heading back up to the entry way of the temple. It is there that he saw Page, from behind, hand extended with his gun, fire at least one shot.
He saw several of the victims inside the temple, but could not identify them due to their wounds. Once he saw Page was taken down by Oak Creek police, he raced outside to inform the police that there were victims inside the temple that needed attention. At that point, he stood just feet from Page, who lay on the ground handcuffed with a gunshot wound to the head.
Page bled profusely from the head and mouth, his gun about seven feet from him, empty shell casings surrounding him. Shortly thereafter, Harwaha watched him die.
"I prayed," Harwaha said of that moment. "I prayed that God bless everybody. He is a human like us, but his brain is not like you and me. Because, if he had a good brain, he never would have (shot) everybody, he never had killed anybody. I was badly shocked. Shivering."
Oak Creek Police, along with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, confirmed Page as the shooter during a press conference Monday morning. Both departments also confirmed he was the lone shooter and that there are no remaining threats to the Sikh Temple, or to the communities of Oak Creek and Cudahy, where Page lived.
Oak Creek Lt. Brian Murphy, who was first on the scene, was "ambushed" by Page while attending to a victim in the parking lot, and according to police was shot up to nine times, including once in the neck. Page also fired several rounds at other police vehicles before he was mortally wounded by police.
The victim Murphy was attending to when he was shot did not survive.
The names and ages of the six victims were released Monday as well as the photo of a "person of interest," a white male who was reportedly seen at the temple during the shooting, but was not a shooter himself.
The victims are:
- Sita Singh, 41-year-old male
- Ranjit Singh – 49-year-old male
- Satwant Singh Kaleka – 65-year-old male
- Prakash Singh – 39-year-old male
- Paramjit Kaur – 41-year-old female
- Suveg Singh – 84-year-old male
A photo of the person of interest the FBI is seeking can be seen here.
Boparai was in the parking lot when Page arrived, and watched him come into the parking lot and open fire at close range on a priest. The priest had immediately seen Page and rushed to him.
"I (was) watching him ... and I saw our priest standing there and he started shooting," Boparai said. "He took two steps in front of the shooter and I thought maybe they were talking, but they did not talk. He just started shooting."
Boparai jumped into her car, but could not muster the courage to drive away, instead hiding until the coast was clear. She had known the priest for 15 years, and began to weep as she recalled the scene. She did not know why the priest was outside.
"I'm scared and crying at that time," Boparai remembered. "My head was not working."
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said Monday that the gun Page used was a 9 millimeter handgun with multiple ammunition magazines, and that it was purchased legally. The FBI acknowledged Page had previous "interactions" with law enforcement but would not disclose the nature of such interactions, and they did not prohibit him from legally owning a firearm.
Other ammunition was found at the scene, but officials would not provide details regarding that or the search of Page's residence.
Officials said the investigation could fall under the term of "domestic terrorism," which FBI Special Agent In Charge Teresa Carlson generally defined as an act of violence with social or political motives, although each case is looked at individually. It also could be discovered to be a hate crime.
The temple will remain closed as an active crime scene, though the FBI hoped it could be reopened as early as Thursday.
Members of the Oak Creek congregation will meet at the Brookfield temple tonight for prayer and a candlelight vigil from 7 to 8 p.m.
Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.
A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.
To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.
Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining OnMilwaukee.com.
In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.
Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.