National News

Wisconsin temple shooter's motives might never be known

Posted August 8, 2012 6:56 a.m. EDT
Updated August 8, 2012 6:49 p.m. EDT

— There's no trial to prepare, no jury to persuade, no judge to hand down a sentence.

Wade Michael Page is dead after fatally shooting six people at a Sikh temple outside Milwaukee. Although detectives are pursuing leads in several states, their findings might never be presented in court.

So will the full story behind the attack ever be known? And how long will investigators keep looking for an elusive motive that might provide answers to devastated Sikh families, as well as valuable information about white supremacists?

The FBI said Wednesday that the motive behind the shootings at a Sikh temple that left six worshipers dead remains unknown, but authorities still haven't identified anyone other than the gunman as being responsible.

FBI Special Agent-in-Charge Teresa Carlson also said that investigators determined Page died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head after he was shot by police. Authorities previously said an officer had fired the fatal shot.

Carlson says federal officials had not opened any investigation into Page before Sunday's shooting. She says investigators are interviewing dozens of people who have known Page as they work to determine for a possible motive.

Detectives are sifting through the gunman's life, assembling the biography of a man who apparently had few relatives, a spotty work history and a thin criminal record. Investigators have interviewed more than 100 people looking for a motive, and they are plowing through his email accounts, phone records, DOT videos and even neighborhood security cameras.

They have warned they might never learn for certain what drove him to attack total strangers in a holy place. The Sikh community holds out hope.

"We just want to get to the bottom of what motivated him to do it," said Amardeep Singh, an executive with the New York-based Sikh Coalition. "It's important to acknowledge why they lost their lives."

The 40-year-old Army veteran strode into the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin shortly before Sunday services and opened fire with a 9-millimeter pistol. The dead included temple President Satwant Singh Kaleka, who was shot as he tried to fend off the shooter with a butter knife.

Page wounded a responding police officer in the parking lot – Lt. Brian Murphy was shot at least eight times, but his chief said his condition is rapidly improving – before dying in a shootout with police.

Gunman led troubled life

The FBI has taken over the case and released little official information. The fragments of Page's past that have emerged suggest he lived a somewhat troubled life.

A native of Littleton, Colo., he had a record of minor alcohol-related crimes in Texas, Colorado and North Carolina. He was demoted during a stint in the Army for getting drunk on duty and going AWOL before he received a less-than-honorable discharge in 1998.

Page was stationed at Fort Bragg at the time when two soldiers killed a black couple on a Fayetteville street in December 1995. The incident prompted the Army to investigate extremist activity in the service.

Although the probe turned up little evidence of hate groups in the ranks, the Army focused on seeking out signs of extremist views. Officials say less than 0.1 percent of soldiers now harbor such views.

A former soldier who served with Page said this week that, despite the Army's crackdown, Page showed his racist tendencies.

"It didn't matter if they were black, Indian, Native American, Latin -- he hated them all," Fred Allen Lucas told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

It's unclear whether Page's white supremacist leanings played a role in his discharge.

Fort Bragg spokesman Tom McCollum said every new soldier who arrives on post now undergoes a tattoo check. If a soldier wears a suspicious tattoo, he said, Fort Bragg's gang detectives investigate.

The military is a reflection of society, McCollum said, adding that members of gangs and hate groups still occasionally make it into the ranks.

Gun legally bought in Wisconsin

Page eventually moved to Wisconsin, living in South Milwaukee with a girlfriend and working third-shift at a brazing factory in Cudahy, another Milwaukee suburb. Neighbors said the couple broke up this past spring.

The ex-girlfriend, Misty Cook, was arrested Tuesday after FBI agents who went to interview her saw she had a gun. Cook, 31, is a convicted felon, making possession of a weapon illegal.

"If I could say something to ease the pain of the victims and their families, I would gladly do so," Cook wrote in an email to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "Unfortunately, words do not begin to heal the pain they are going through."

Page moved into a Cudahy duplex in mid-July and quit showing up for work around the same time. A few days after he moved into the duplex, he visited a West Allis, Wis., gun shop and, after clearing background checks, bought the gun he used in the shooting.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has described Page as a "frustrated neo-Nazi" who participated in the white-power music scene, playing in bands called Definite Hate and End Apathy.

Rajwant Singh, chairman of the Sikh Council on Religion and Education, said even though Page is dead, other white-supremacy and neo-Nazi groups could harbor similar intentions.

"Our concern is, how do we tackle these hate groups operating underground or in darkness?" he said.

The FBI has classified the incident as domestic terrorism, a violent act for social or political gain. But the bureau hasn't said anything about Page's possible motives.

Now investigators face two tasks: determining what drove Page over the edge and whether anyone nudged him along the way.

Carlson said investigators have no information to suggest that anyone else was involved, but they continue to search to make sure.

Investigation is slow process

Investigators probably will collect all the bullets and fragments from the temple and the victims' bodies to confirm that they came from Page's gun. Detectives also will pore over witness statements to make absolutely certain he was the only shooter, said Joe LeFevre, chairman of the forensic science department at Fox Valley Technical College in Appleton.

Authorities will interview Page's family, friends and associates. Agents spent Monday morning doing a door-to-door sweep on his street, chatting with neighbors on their front porches and in their backyards.

If agents seized a computer from his apartment, they likely will review the websites he visited and any writings he posted. If they recovered a cellphone, they will use it to follow his recent movements as the device shifted from one cell tower to the next.

"It's like any crime," said Jack Ryan, a Rhode Island attorney who trains police around the country. "You focus on their recent tracks. You focus on friends, acquaintances. He had to get ready for this plot somewhere."

The investigation could take weeks or longer. But Page's motive is the key.

If detectives determine Page simply held a personal grudge, the Sikhs and the rest of the public will have an answer. If investigators conclude he was motivated by racist ideology, that might lead police to accomplices, help collect intelligence on white supremacist groups and prevent future attacks.

No matter how thorough the investigation, the final conclusions are bound to leave victims with many of the same anguish-filled questions.

"Whatever the answer is, we can be reasonably sure it won't be an answer many people would say makes sense to them," said University of Wisconsin-Madison law professor Michael Scott, who is writing a guidebook for police on hate crimes.

"We'd like to have some peek into that twisted mind. But in the end, it's still a peek into a twisted mind that doesn't tell us anything we didn't already know about human nature."