Sikh temple shooting suspect was former Bragg soldier

Posted August 6, 2012 9:37 a.m. EDT
Updated August 6, 2012 9:08 p.m. EDT

— A man identified as the shooter in an attack at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin that killed six people Sunday was an Army veteran who was stationed at Fort Bragg in the 1990s, authorities said Monday.

Oak Creek Police Chief John Edwards said the gunman, who was shot and killed by police outside the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, was Wade Michael Page.

Page, 40, was in the military from 1992 to 1998 and received a general discharge, Edwards said.

A defense official who spoke on condition of anonymity said Page had been demoted in rank from sergeant to specialist. Officials say Page showed a "pattern of misconduct" that included drinking while on duty and going absent without leave.

Page joined the military in Milwaukee in 1992 and was a repairman for the Hawk missile system before switching jobs to become one of the Army's psychological operations specialists, according to the defense official. Records show he was a member of A Company, 9th Psychological Operations Battalion.

So-called "Psy-Ops" specialists gather and analyze intelligence and information about foreign citizens in an effort to influence them.

According to the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office, Page lived at 4751 Doc Bennett Road in the Gray's Creek community until last year. That home is now abandoned.

"It's kind of stunning at first to know somebody like that lived that close to you," said Bill Thigpen, who lives across a farm field from the home.

Thigpen said he would sometimes see a couple of men at the house but never saw any suspicious activity.

Page was issued five gun permits by the sheriff's office in May 2008. At that time, there were “no apparent problems” that would have prevented him from getting a permit, spokeswoman Debbie Tanna said.

His permit application listed his employer as Bar-Nunn Transportation, a trucking company based in Granger, Iowa.

In 1997, Page had a warrant for arrest on a bad check charge. He was the victim of breaking and entering and larceny in 2010, according to Tanna, and he was charged around that same time with driving while impaired in Harnett County.

“He lived a pretty quiet life here,” Tanna said.

Edwards said Page had been in Oak Creek "for only a short period of time," and local police had no contact with him before Sunday.

Group: Gunman had supremacist ties

Page was a "frustrated neo-Nazi" who led a racist white supremacist band, the Southern Poverty Law Center said Monday. Page told a white supremacist website in an interview in 2010 that he had been part of the white-power music scene since 2000, when he left his native Colorado, and started the band End Apathy in 2005, the nonprofit civil rights organization said.

He told the website his "inspiration was based on frustration that we have the potential to accomplish so much more as individuals and a society in whole," according to the SPLC. He did not mention violence in the website interview.

According to a band profile on MySpace, End Apathy formed in 2005 and was based in Nashville, N.C. It said their music "is a sad commentary on our sick society and the problems that prevent true progress."

Todd Gutnick, a spokesman for the Anti-Defamation League, said End Apathy was affiliated with the Hammerskins, a "hardcore racist skinhead group with a history of violence."

The organization has been aware of Page for some time, Gutnick said, but it saw no warning signs in recent weeks or months to compel them to alert authorities about potential violence.

Joseph Rackley of Nashville said Monday that Page lived with his son, fellow End Apathy member Brent Rackley, for about six months last year in a house on the elder Rackley's three acres of property. Wade was bald and had tattoos all over his arms, Joseph Rackley said, but he doesn't remember what they depicted. He said he wasn't aware of any ties Page may have had to white supremacists.

"I'm not a nosy kind of guy," he said. "When he stayed with my son, I don't even know if Wade played music. But my son plays alternative music, and periodically I'd have to call them because I could hear more than I wanted to hear."

FBI agents visited the property on Monday. A sign that says "STOP Race Mixing" was posted on the carport, and a Confederate flag flapped nearby in the breeze.

Page's stepmother, Laura Page, said he had a lot of "emotional problems" after his mother died when he was 12 or 13, but he was never violent or unstable. She said he was a loner who spent much of his time playing guitar.

Laura Page said she lost contact with her stepson when he joined the Army. She divorced his father about 12 years ago.

Gunman 'ambushed' police

When the gunfire at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in suburban Milwaukee ended Sunday, seven people lay dead, including the gunman, and three others were critically wounded in what police called an act of domestic terrorism.

Lt. Brian Murphy, the first Oak Creek police officer to respond to the 10:25 a.m. shooting, was in critical condition Monday. Edwards said Murphy was attending to a shooting victim in the temple parking lot when the gunman "ambushed" him and shot him eight to nine times at close range with a handgun.

Other officers responding to the scene then confronted the gunman and ordered him to drop his weapon, Edwards said. The gunman instead shot at one of the patrol cars, and the officers returned fire, killing him.

"They did what they had to do," he said. "They stopped a worse tragedy from happening, with their actions."

A thorough search of the temple revealed six other people had been killed. They were identified Monday as Sita Singh, 41, Ranjit Singh, 49, Satwant Singh Kaleka, 65, Prakash Singh, 39, Paramjit Kaur, 41, and Suveg Singh, 84.

Satpal Kaleka, wife of the temple's president, Satwant Singh Kaleka, was in the front room and saw the gunman enter the temple, according to Harpreet Singh, their nephew.

"He did not speak, he just began shooting," said Singh, relaying a description of the attack from Satpal Kaleka.

Kaleka said the 6-foot-tall bald white man — whom worshipers said they had never before seen at the temple — seemed like he had a purpose and knew where he was going.

Authorities have not provided further details about Page nor suggested a possible motive, including whether he specifically targeted the Sikh temple.

Authorities said he used a legally purchased 9-millimeter handgun with multiple magazines.

They maintain that they believe Page acted alone in the rampage, but the FBI questioned another man Monday whom they called a person of interest. They said the second man showed up after the shootings, but they cleared him after talking to him.

Mayor Steve Scaffidi said Oak Creek will hold a vigil for the shooting victims on Tuesday evening as part of the town's annual National Night Out anti-crime events.

"Oak Creek is a diverse, welcoming community," Scaffidi said at a Monday news conference. "We will recover from this."

Sikhs mistaken for Muslims

This isn't the first time that members of the Sikh religion have been targeted since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The New York-based Sikh Coalition has reported more than 700 hate crimes in the U.S. since 9/11 and has fielded complaints in the thousands from Sikhs about workplace discrimination and racial profiling. With their turbans and long beards, Sikhs are often mistaken for Muslims or Arabs and have inadvertently become targets of anti-Muslim bias in the United States.

"These kinds of terrible, tragic events are happening with too much regularity for us not to do some soul-searching and to examine additional ways that we can reduce violence," President Barack Obama said Monday.

Obama called on law enforcement, leaders of the faith and community leaders to begin to find a way to move forward.

Sikhism is a monotheistic faith founded more than 500 years ago in South Asia. It has roughly 27 million followers worldwide, including 500,000 in the U.S.

Observant Sikhs do not cut their hair. Male followers often cover their heads with turbans – which are considered sacred – and refrain from shaving their beards.

The Sikh Temple of Wisconsin started in 1997 with about 25 families who gathered in community halls in Milwaukee. Construction on the current temple in Oak Creek began in 2006, according to the temple's website.