News Column

Sikh Temple Shooter Had Military Background, White Supremacist Ties

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The shooter who opened fire before worship services Sunday at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek and killed six people before he was killed by police is Wade Michael Page, a 40-year-old Army veteran, U.S. Attorney James A. Santelle said Monday.

He said officials believe he purchased the 9mm handgun legally in Wisconsin.

Page, 40, served in the military approximately between 1992 and 1998, Santelle said. Other sources familiar with the investigation said Page was assigned to psychological operations, or PsyOps. He apparently was last stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C.

As members of the Sikh community in Milwaukee and worldwide mourned the dead, details of Page's background - his time in Colorado and North Carolina before his recent arrival at a duplex in Cudahy, Wis. - began to emerge, including ties to white supremacist groups.

A statement Monday afternoon from Page's family, texted to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter, said the family was "devastated by the horrific events" and asked for privacy.

At a 10 a.m. news briefing in Oak Creek, officials identified the Oak Creek police officer who was shot when he responded to the temple as Lt. Brian Murphy, 51, an experienced member of the department's tactical unit. Murphy was a finalist for the Oak Creek police chief post in 2010 and has 21 years with the department

Satwant Singh Kaleka, 65, the temple president, was killed Sunday after attempting to tackle the gunman.

Oak Creek police identified the other victims Monday as Sita Singh, 41; Ranjit Singh, 49; Prakash Singh, 39; Paramjit Kaur, 41; and Suveg Singh, 84.

Oak Creek Police Chief John Edwards said during the news conference that Murphy was the first officer on the scene and came upon a victim in the temple parking lot. As Murphy was going to assist the victim, who is among the dead, he was ambushed by the gunman. Murphy was shot eight to nine times at "very close range" with a handgun, one of the shots striking his neck area, Edwards said.

Other officers arriving on the scene heard shots but did not know Murphy had been wounded, Edwards said. They saw the gunman, ordered him to drop his weapon and put his hands up, but he did not, Edwards said.

The gunman fired at officers and the bullets struck squad cars. At that point, an officer with a rifle shot and killed the suspect, Edwards said. He did not identify that officer, saying that a separate investigation was being conducted as a result of the officer-involved shooting. The Milwaukee County District Attorney's Office and the Milwaukee Police Department are working on that investigation.

Jim Palmer, executive director of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association, confirmed Monday that the officer who killed the shooter is Sam Lenda, a 32-year veteran police officer. Lenda has also taught at Milwaukee Area Technical College, according to the college's website.

"Officer Lenda does not consider himself a hero and has said as much," said Palmer, whose union has talked with Lenda. "I think he fits the definition to a T."

Murphy is in critical condition but is expected to survive, Edwards said.

In a statement issued through Froedtert Hospital, Murphy's family said: "We are grateful to so many who addressed Brian's needs at the scene and continue to do so at the hospital. We ask that you respect our family's privacy during this very difficult time. We are not alone in coping with yesterday's tragedy. As we stand by Brian and pray for his recovery, we extend condolences to the family of those who lost their lives in this tragic incident. Our thoughts also go out to the entire Sikh community."

In addition to Murphy, three others who were at the temple were injured. Two are at Froedtert in critical condition. The third was treated and released, Edwards said.

In remarks before Edwards spoke, Mayor Steve Scaffidi said there is "no doubt in my mind the heroic actions of our police officers prevented a greater tragedy."

"The terrible event that we witnessed yesterday should not be a part of America," Santelle said at the news conference. "We are profoundly saddened by the events of yesterday and the work that has been done by this law enforcement community ... is a reflection of and is animated principally by our profound respect and our great sorrow about the losses the Sikh community has suffered in the past 24 hours. Our hearts are deep, our sadness is profound and we share with you great tears."

At the 10 a.m. news conference, authorities said they were attempting to identify another person, a white male, who they described as "a person of interest." But as of 2:45 p.m., FBI officials said they had identified the man and ruled him out as having anything to do with the temple incident.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, a group that has studied hate crimes for decades, reported Monday that Page was a frustrated neo-Nazi who had been the leader of a racist white-power band known as End Apathy.

Heidi Beirich, director of the center's intelligence project, said her group had been tracking Page since 2000, when he tried to purchase goods from the National Alliance, a well-known hate group.

The National Alliance was led by William Pierce, who was the author of "The Turner Diaries." The book depicts a violent revolution in the United States leading to an overthrow of the federal government and, ultimately, a race war. Parts of the book were found in Timothy McVeigh's getaway car after the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995.

Beirich said there was "no question" Page was an ardent follower and believer in the white supremacist movement. She said her center had evidence that he attended "hate events" around the country.

"He was involved in the scene," she said.

Pierce is dead, and Beirich said the National Alliance is no longer considered to be an influential group.

Also on Monday, a volunteer human-rights group called Responsible for Equality And Liberty, or R.E.A.L., found links between Page, his band and a white supremacist website called Stormfront.

Jeffrey Imm, who heads R.E.A.L., said in an interview Monday that someone based in Milwaukee using the name "End Apathy" began posting on the website in February 2008. Additionally, appearances by Page's band were promoted on the Stormfront site, including a white supremacist gathering in March 2012 in Richmond, Va.

Santelle, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, said he believed Page left the Army under a general discharge, but wasn't sure what that indicated about his service.

Officials at the Army's national records center in St. Louis said the FBI took Page's military records Sunday night.

Page has ties to Colorado and North Carolina, Santelle said, but investigators are not certain what brought him to the Milwaukee area.

It's unclear how long he was in Wisconsin before he began renting a duplex in the 3700 block of E. Holmes Ave. in Cudahy starting in July.

Santelle said he didn't believe Page had a criminal record. He added that investigators are still tracing the history of the 9mm handgun Page used. But Santelle said that he thought it had been purchased legally in Wisconsin.

The gun used in the temple shooting has been traced by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said Tom Ahern, spokesman for the agency. Under an urgent trace request, the ATF has determined the original buyer of the weapon. Ahern said it is up to Oak Creek police to release information on the gun purchase.

At the news conference, ATF Special Agent in Charge Bernard Zapor said of the gun, "We know of its origin. We know where it came from," and "how it ended up in the hands of this killer."

But other than to say it was a 9mm handgun and that a number of magazines were found at the scene, Zapor would not disclose anything else about the gun.

However, sources familiar with the investigation said Page bought the gun at Shooters Shop in West Allis, Wis.

The gun was purchased July 28 and picked up July 30, less than a week before the shooting.

Page received a general discharge from the Army, meaning that he could legally buy a firearm. Had he received a dishonorable discharge, he would have been prohibited from purchasing the weapon.

Shooters Shop owner Kevin Nugent said Monday federal agents had not visited him on the purchase and he could not confirm that Page bought the gun at his store.

Law enforcement officials have been investigating the Cudahy duplex where Page lived. The block on E. Holmes Ave. was cordoned off for a time Sunday night as officials investigated inside, and residents were evacuated from their homes.

The officers came out of the duplex around midnight, carrying large items.

Edwards, the Oak Creek police chief, said investigators carefully searched the house because they were concerned it might be booby-trapped.

At the Monday news conference, FBI Special Agent in Charge Teresa Carlson said investigators were able to safely enter the residence. She provided no details of what they found.

She said there was no indication the suspect was capable of such violence.

But Carlson said investigators were trying to find Page's family and associates to speak with them, although she stated there was no reason to believe anyone else was associated with the shooting.

She also said the FBI was looking at Page's possible ties to white supremacist groups, but she noted there was no active investigation of Page until Sunday.

Carlson said at the briefing, "Senseless acts of violence like this are completely unacceptable and when targeted at a place of worship particularly reprehensible. I want everyone to know that the FBI is going to do everything in our power to fully and efficiently investigate this case and we are also going to do everything in our power to prevent this from ever happening again."

Page is believed to have worked as a truck driver with Granger, Iowa-based Barr-Nunn Transportation, from about April 2006 to August 2010 while living in North Carolina. An employee at the company said he left "involuntarily" but declined to elaborate.

Records from the Cumberland County, N.C., Sheriff's Department show Page was issued five permits to purchase pistols in May of 2008.

He was described at the time as 5-10, 210 pounds with brown hair and brown eyes. He was single and had a scar on his stomach and tattoos, including lettering on his hands, a Celtic knot on his back and fire on his leg.

Carlson of the FBI told the Journal Sentinel that there is no 9-11 tattoo on Page's body. Several national news organizations had reported Sunday that the shooter had such a tattoo.

The only criminal contact the Cumberland County department had on Page was a charge of writing a worthless check in October 1997.

Before moving to the Cudahy address, Page lived for a time earlier this year in South Milwaukee.

David Brown, 62, a neighbor who lived in the same South Milwaukee apartment building, said Page was a recluse. He was "not a friendly guy," he said. "You'd have more fun with a camel.

"He was very quiet. You'd say hi and he'd kind of 'uh.' It was like he didn't care if you were talking or not."

Brown saw Page driving a plain white delivery truck several times. Page lived in apartment No. 5 with his girlfriend, Misty, who was going to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and who has an autistic son, and whose father helped out with child care and car maintenance.

Page liked to play music at odd hours of the night and work out in the basement with free weights.

Brown saw him there when he went to do laundry. "I never saw him carry a gun," said Brown, a former Navy officer who is retired from working in aviation electronics.

Page and his girlfriend moved out about four or five months ago.

"He didn't seem mean. It was kind of like he was angry at the world. But I'm not a psychiatrist," Brown said.

Page's grandmother, Elaine Lenz, said Page was a caring grandson who sent her a dozen roses two weeks ago, "just to tell me he loved me."

"I'm sorry he has caused so much trouble," she said in a phone interview from her home in Denver.

On Monday afternoon, a Journal Sentinel reporter received the following text message as a statement from Page's family:

"As the family of Wade Page, we are devastated by the horrific events that occurred Sunday in Oak Creek Wisconsin. While there can be no words of comfort that will make sense of what happened that day, please be aware that our thoughts and prayers go out to all the victims and their families. We share in their grief for all who lost their lives that day and for those survivors, we hope for a speedy recovery. We have been cooperating and will continue to cooperate with the investigation in any way we can. Please respect our privacy as we try to deal with the tragic loss of life and family."

The mass shooting occurred sometime before 10:30 a.m. Sunday, as members of the temple prepared for a weekly worship service that was to begin at 11:30 a.m. The first 911 calls were recorded at 10:26 a.m.

Dozens of people were already at the temple when the gunman began his rampage, which some authorities are describing as a possible domestic terrorist incident.

Police arrived at the temple, 7512 S. Howell Ave., within three minutes of the initial 911 call, with a dispatcher telling officers it was a report of an altercation. But a minute later the dispatcher added that there were reports of gunshots. Shortly after, she told them that "a bald male with glasses may have shot someone."

The gunman acted alone, police said, but the reason for the attack remained unclear. Edwards said officers knocked on 200 doors Sunday in an effort to determine that there was not more than one shooter and that everyone in the surrounding neighborhood was safe. He also said officers conducted a 3-square-mile grid search in the area with air support in case more than one person was involved. Although there were reports of more than one shooter, Edwards said Monday investigators are confident there was only one gunman.

Based on what is known about the attack, it is believed to be the most deadly U.S. attack on Sikhs, who often have been mistaken for Muslims and targeted in hate crimes.

According to a witness, the gunman first walked up to a priest who was standing outside, shot him, then entered the temple and began firing.

As the shooting erupted, women, children and men hid in the temple for more than an hour. They took refuge in restrooms and a pantry, among other places.

As SWAT team members cleared the temple Sunday, authorities found four dead inside the temple and three dead outside the temple, including Page.

Murphy, the officer who was shot multiple times by Page, underwent two surgeries at Froedtert Hospital on Sunday, Edwards said earlier Monday, one of them lasting for five hours. Edwards said the officer was resting comfortably at the hospital with family by his side.

Two other men were taken to Froedtert with gunshot wounds. They were in critical condition. They were identified by a temple leader as Santokh Singh and Punjab Singh.

The 50-year-old Santokh Singh's nephew, Gurjeet Singh, said in a statement, "This is a very difficult time for our family and the Sikh community. We ask that you respect our privacy. We pray for continued healing for all who were involved with this tragedy and thank those who are reaching out with support."

At a news conference at Froedtert, Gary Seabrook, director of surgical services, said doctors believe Santokh Singh was injured "with a single gunshot wound that penetrated his stomach, diaphragm and chest." He was operated on Sunday and was back in the operating room Monday for surgery to complete his treatment, Seabrook said.

No additional information was available about Punjab Singh, whose family declined to release information, Froedtert officials said.

Two members of the Sikh temple, Balbir Singh and Surinderpal Singh, said Monday morning that members of the temple were gathering at the home of the temple president who was killed.

"We will be gathering with our friends and family there," said Balbir Singh.

"There will be a household full of people," said Surinderpal Singh.

A Sikh human rights group is pledging $10,000 to Murphy.

New York-based Sikhs for Justice in a statement applauded the heroic actions of Oak Creek officers.

"This tragic incident is just one more example of the need for all ethnic groups to support each other and raise their voices against violence in our country and abroad," said G.S. Pannun, attorney and spokesman for the group. "Since 9/11 there have been innumerable instance of hate crimes against members of the Sikh community. Our government must take urgent steps to educate the country about the Sikh population and help put an end to these horrific and deadly acts of violence."

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