Milwaukee Sikhs Remember Shooting Victims

fromWPR

In the aftermath of Sunday's shooting at a suburban Milwaukee temple, the Sikh community in Wisconsin is expressing shock and sadness. It's also asking for greater religious tolerance.

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I am nothing but an American. Those are some of the words we are about to hear from Americans Sikhs after a shooting over the weekend. A gunman targeted a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, killing six people before police killed him. In a moment, we'll learn more about the man identified as the shooter.

We begin with Chuck Quirmbach of Wisconsin Public Radio.

CHUCK QUIRMBACH, BYLINE: About 75 members of the Milwaukee area Sikh community sat at a news conference the Sikhs held at a Salvation Army building yesterday afternoon, to listen to Amardeep Kaleka try to discuss his late father.

AMARDEEP KALEKA: Satwan Singh Kaleka was a great man - a hero under through and through, and we just hope you guys understand.

QUIRMBACH: The elder Kaleka was the president of the Sikh temple where six members were killed in a shooting spree. He tried to fend off gunman Wade Michael Page before being mortally wounded. Amardeep Kaleka recalled how his father loved it here in Milwaukee, even after being beaten in a robbery while working at a gas station. Kaleka says his dad was also very patriotic, flying a large American flag in front of his house.

KALEKA: When we came home from high school that day, we go, Papa, this is an eyesore. This thing is going to like make us look foolish in this community. And he's like, Look down the street, nobody has an American flag. You're an American now.

QUIRMBACH: National Sikh leaders are arriving in Wisconsin and say they're here to help better explain the Sikh community. They stress that Sikhs are often confused with Muslims. Amardeep Singh, of the Sikh Coalition, says if Sunday's shootings were indeed hate crimes, then the media should help educate the public about the Sikh people.

AMARDEEP SINGH: To let people know that when you see a turban and beard, in my case you're talking about a person born and raised in this country. I played Little League baseball. My mother was a soccer mom. I'm a diehard New York Yankees fan. I'm nothing but an American.

QUIRMBACH: That education effort continued last night as some Sikhs invited the media to a prayer vigil at a temple in the city of Brookfield.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing in foreign language)

QUIRMBACH: Kiranjeet Kaur helped organize the event and says there will be more sadness later this week as funerals are held. But Kaur says her community is determined to thrive.

KIRANJEET KAUR: It's always hard when we lose people, particularly six members of our community at one time. But it's something that we're going to take the steps that we need to at this point, and we're going to keep walking.

QUIRMBACH: The first step is a vigil scheduled for tonight in Oak Creek, the city where Sunday's lethal shootings occurred.

For NPR News, I'm Chuck Quirmbach in Milwaukee.

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