Milwaukee supports Sikh community in wake of shooting

Members of the Milwaukee community are helping victims of the Aug. 5 shooting at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek move forward after a gunman killed seven, including himself, and injured four more.

Among the victims was the founder of the temple, Satwant Singh Kaleka, 65, whose nephew, Shehbaz Kaleka, is a Marquette sophomore in the College of Communication.

“(Our family is) doing pretty good,” Kaleka said. “My mom and my aunt took it the hardest. We tried not to think about it. We tried to divert our attention.”

Kaleka said there have been many functions to remember his uncle and that the Milwaukee community has been helpful through the entire grieving process.

“(The Milwaukee community) has been really supportive,” Kaleka said.

Shrinivas Joshi, a Marquette professor of electrical and computer engineering, is part of the effort to help the victims’ families, which includes support through fundraising.

“We had a meeting where all the community people came together and began to raise funds,” Joshi said. “We have raised $25,000 so far.”

Joshi pointed out one family in particular that had recently moved from India and is in need of financial assistance.

“One of the priests (and victims) was about 39 years old,” Joshi said. “His wife and son and daughter had come here two months ago from India and they are left helpless now. (But) they are holding up very well – they are very courageous (and) very composed. Everybody has rallied together.”

Though he is not a Sikh, Joshi, a Hindu, said all Indian-Americans were affected by the shooting because of the close relation between the Hindu and Sikh faiths.

Joshi said the community support is an ongoing process and that the Sikh people are generally “a very hardworking, very courageous and very generous people.”

Kaleka said he has positive memories of his uncle.

“He was a really caring guy,” Kaleka said. “He was always at the temple. Even the day he died he was there early, praying.”

He also noted that the entire Milwaukee area felt the effects of the event, citing the quick response and support from locals.

“(The shooting) started at about 10:30 in the morning,” Joshi said. “By that evening, there was a vigil downtown. Everybody from Milwaukee (was supportive).  Not just people from India, no matter what color or race. It’s very heartwarming.”

University President the Rev. Scott Pilarz issued a statement on behalf of the university on Aug. 6 including a prayer that reads, “May our spirit of respect, tolerance, civility and unity be strengthened as we come together this day.”

Other notable public figures to offer their support include President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, Gov. Scott Walker, and former Gov. and current U.S. Senate candidate Tommy Thompson.

Oak Creek police had previously said they did not know gunman Wade Michael Page’s motives, though NBC News has reported that Page, who shot himself in the head after being shot in the stomach by a police officer during the incident, had connections to white supremacy and neo-Nazi groups.

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