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US gurdwara victims were loving, dedicated, deeply religious

PTI 06 Aug 2012, 17:08:19 IST
PTI
New York, Aug 6: The six victims of the senseless shootout at a Gurudwara in Wisconsin, including its President and a priest, have been described as loving, dedicated and deeply religious people.




When a gunman opened fire at the gurudwara in Oak Creek yesterday, Satwant Kaleka tried to attack the shooter outside the temple, his son said.

Wounded in his lower extremities, Kaleka, 65, made it inside, hid with others in a room, and died there.  

“It was like a second home to him,” Amardeep Kaleka said of his father's love for the temple. “He was the kind of person who, if he got a call that a bulb was out at 2 am, he'd go over to change it,” the son was quoted as saying by the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel.  

Lahwinder Singh, a member of the community, said the president “brought everyone together. He just wanted to make a good temple, a good community.”

After more than 10 hours of waiting, including hours inside the basement of a nearby bowling alley, family members began learning the fate of loved ones from officials late yesterday.

Authorities began calling out the names of waiting family members to talk to them in a private area.  

“It's hard to describe the scene. People were crying and hugging each other,” said Ben Boba Ri, an official with the temple was quoted as saying in the report.  Among those killed was Parkash Singh, a priest who was described as quiet and gentle.

“He was a good guy, a noble soul,” said Manminder Sethi, a dentist who is a member of the temple.  Parkash Singh had been an assistant priest at the temple for six or seven years, said Gurcharan Grewal, president of the Sikh Religious Society of Wisconsin.  

Parkash Singh went back to India in June to bring back his wife and two children - a young son and daughter, both under age 12 - to live here. About eight weeks ago, he returned to Oak Creek.

“She was really shattered. Crying,” temple member Harinder Gill said of Parkash Singh's wife. Gill was at home, preparing to go the temple when the shooting happened.  

Reunited with his family, the quiet priest was about to move from the temple to a new apartment with his wife and children. A priest may only live in the temple alone, not with family, said Gill.

Parkash Singh worked daily in the temple, said Gill, who called him “a low-key guy, and very religious. He would always come to help. When we needed anything, he was always there.”

For Suveg Singh Khattra, 84, the Sikh temple was a place for worship and fellowship. Khattra moved to America in 2004 to live with his son.

“He loved to come to the temple and talk to people. He speaks only Punjabi. He's a nice father,” said Baljander Singh Khattra, a taxi driver.

The son drove the father to the temple most days but on Sundays the assignment fell to the older man's daughter-in-law, Kulwant Kaur, the report said.  

Yesterday, Kaur was helping other women prepare meals at the temple and hid in a pantry after gunshots rang out. When police later escorted her to safety, she said she saw her father-in-law.

“When they brought her out, she saw my father on the floor with blood coming from his head,” said Baljander Singh Khattra.

Some believed one of the victims was woman in her late 30s and the mother of two sons. She was standing and praying in the temple when the gunman opened fire, they said.  

One of her sons fainted at the bowling alley shortly before 10 pm as authorities were letting family members know the fate of their loved ones, said a man who declined to give his name.