Oak Creek stays united in dealing with shooting's aftermath

Published on: 9/12/2012

Oak Creek - Members of the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin have taken down their signs of support, the police have released the dashboard camera video of the shooting, Lt. Brian Murphy has been released from the hospital and all of the victims but Punjab Singh, who remains in a coma, have been released from the hospital.

The grief and shock are still strong, but the Oak Creek community is working to find a new sense of normal after the Aug. 5 tragedy in which Wade Michael Page shot and killed six Sikh Temple members and injured others, including Murphy.

The road has been long and hard.

Sikhs value support

'We are learning how to cope,' said Hardeep Singh, a 16-year Oak Creek resident and a longtime temple member. 'We've got a lot of support from the local community of different ethnic backgrounds. The support has started since the day it happened. The support is easing the pain. The whole community is sending letters - any form, like money and everything - and we have set up a fund so the money is coming in for the families of the victims. We are helping with their immediate needs.'

Through the Never Ending Light website, the Sikh community has raised $285,000 for the shooting victims. Their goal is to raise $400,000 by the end of the year.

'The tinge of fear will always be there,' he said. 'You have a home that you can't stop living in. Because something happened once, you can't stop going there.'

Temple attendance is on the rise, thanks to Sikhs looking to worship, community members looking to lend support and visitors from throughout the Midwest stopping by with messages of kindness. From about 450 participants before the shooting, the Sept. 8 service drew closer to 850 people.

Temple leaders have created a new Power Point presentation giving a full translation of their Sunday service to serve the new traffic. The previous translation just provided an overview of the service.

The lesson Singh hopes is learned from the tragedy?

'Let go of hate. It's never good and never will be good. We have to build bridges around communities - and talk to your neighbors, talk more to people. Find out more about people and there will be peace and harmony.'

Officer's release a relief

The events of Aug. 5 took a personal toll on the Oak Creek Police Department as well.

'People say 'That's a policeman's job,' and obviously it is, and they did the job to the best. They took care of the situation within a few minutes,' Police Chief John Edwards said. 'You also have to understand that there is no way you can train for an officer being shot and assisting that officer and handling that chaotic job. It's easy for people to say that it's part of our job to be shot at. You can train and plan for it, but it's a situation that you can't explain to someone.'

Officers have been working with grief counselors since the day of the shooting.

Dashboard camera video of the shooting, released this week, shows Page shoot Murphy multiple times in the temple parking lot, and Officer Savan Lenda's squad being struck by a bullet before Lenda takes down the shooter with a shot to the gut.

Murphy had taken 15 bullets, Edwards said at a news conference Monday.

He has been released from the hospital, and Edwards has confirmed that he is walking on his own.

Edwards said that Murphy's release from the hospital was a sigh of relief for the entire department, adding 'I had a gentleman that I worked with for a long time, and you feel like 'what can (I) do to help him?' And you have to worry about all the other stuff. You want to concentrate on him, but there's a lot of other things that come into my office after something like this happens. My main concern is with my officers, and everything else is secondary to me.'

The Oak Creek Police Department has been training to deal with a mass shooting incident ever since the Columbine shootings in 1999. Both responding officers have tactical training.

'Unfortunately in this day and age, there are things that we have to prepare for that we didn't have to years ago,' the chief said. 'You can't plan for what happened, you can only be prepared. Our guys were ready.'

He added this note: 'You can't always just rely on the police. We need your help just as you need ours. We get most of our information from the public. Be aware, but don't be afraid. Don't let them win.'

Connecting cultures

City administrators have been working to connect with the Sikh community during the past weeks. The city appointed Balhair Dulai, a Sikh community member and a 34-year resident, to the Community Development Authority.

Mayor Stephen Scaffidi said: 'I'm going to continue to try to connect with the community at large to make sure we're addressing whatever's on their minds, and I'm talking about reaching out to other mayors as to what they've done to see if there's anything we can do. I made a promise to this Sikh community to do anything I can as long I'm in office, and I plan to make good on that promise.'

Scaffidi said the city is planning more events to help victims cope and to unite the community.

'I'm going to continue to look for ways for the community to get together. We have a ton of events that we're going to continue to do to create awareness and take a negative situation and make it positive.'

To donate

Go to NeverEndingLight.com and follow the 'We are Sikhs' link.