Aug 6 (Reuters) - Women at the Sikh Temple in Wisconsin were
busily preparing lunch in the community kitchen on Sunday when
two children burst in and screamed frantically they had seen a
man with a gun outside.
People began running in every direction, and 14 women, along
with the two children, rushed into a narrow pantry in the
Milwaukee suburb of Oak Creek. There was no lock, and so the
women pressed their bodies up against the door to keep anyone
from entering, witnesses said.
"Everyone was falling on top of one another," said Parminder
Toor, 54, speaking in Punjabi as her daughter-in-law, Jaskiran
Kaur, translated. "It was dark and we were all crammed in."
The children -- who were not immediately named, but who
worshipers said were not yet teenagers -- had been playing near
a window in another room when they saw the gunman. Their parents
had gone to a nearby grocery store to buy juice for the weekly
community lunch, witnesses said.
Six people, as well as the shooter, were killed on Sunday
morning when the gunman entered the temple and fired on
worshippers with a handgun as they prepared for religious
services. Police identified the gunman as Wade Michael Page, 40,
who was in the U.S. Army from 1992 to 1998.
Satwant Singh Kaleka, the 65-year-old president of the
congregation, was among the victims. The others who died were
Sita Singh, 41; Ranjit Singh, 49; Prakash Singh, 39; Paramjit
Kaur, 41; and Suveg Singh, 84. A police officer was critically
wounded, and three other people were treated in hospital, two of
them for serious injuries.
Witnesses described a chaotic scene as members of Oak
Creek's close-knit Sikh community dashed into any enclosed space
they could find including the basement, a bathroom and the
kitchen pantry, not knowing if it were a lone gunman or a group
HUDDLED IN THE PANTRY
Family members desperately called relatives who they knew to
be at the temple, and warned late-comers to stay away.
In the pantry, the women and the two children huddled
together for more than two hours, as smoke and the smell of hot
cooking oil from the abandoned skillets filled the air.
One of the women who made it into the pantry had been shot
in the hand, and there was "blood everywhere," said Toor.
Toor, who was born in India and has been worshiping at the
temple since it opened five years ago, described the two
children as heroes.
"They were telling all the women to be still and to be
brave, and they were telling the women not to cry," said Toor.
"They are the heroes who saved the women in the closet."
Toor's daughter-in-law, Jaskiran Kaur said she had left the
temple with her two young children minutes before the shooting
began. The service begins at about 11 a.m. local time, and she
said she prefers to worship earlier in the day.
Kaur said she greeted the temple president, Kaleka, in the
customary fashion, with palms pressed together. Later, he
presented her children with traditional sweets.
"I just feel like at least I got to say good-bye," she said,
her voice breaking. She described the temple president as a
"nice, humble guy."
"A VERY GOOD, GENTLE MAN"
At a news conference at the Salvation Army Community Center
on Monday, Amardeep Kaleka, the son of the temple president,
memorialized his father and said he hoped the shooting would
encourage more "cultural understanding" about immigrant groups.
"My father was the quintessential American Dream. He came
over with $100 in his pocket," he said. "America needs to have
cultural understanding of anyone who lives here. We're a nation
of immigrants. We need to know each other. We need to speak up
and talk to each other."
Inderjeet Singh Dhillon, the secretary of the Oak Creek
temple, remembered Kaleka as "one of the most patient people" on
earth when it came to balancing the temple's 400 members.
"It's not easy," Dhillon said. "Believe me, it's not easy.
He never got mad."
Separately, Jaswinder Singh Nat, 60 -- the father of
Jaskiran Kaur -- described Kaleka as beloved in the community.
"He was a very good, gentle man," said Jaswinder Singh Nat,
60, who uses a wheelchair and said he was not at the temple on
Sunday because he was feeling ill.
Kaur said they had last been together as a community on
Saturday for a celebration of a women's festival that is
celebrated in India.
"We all danced and we were all laughing, and everyone looked
so beautiful," she said.