Wade Michael Page (40), a U.S. Army veteran, has been identified as the suspect in a shooting incident at a gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin on Sunday. Six members of the Sikh community were killed and dozens injured in the attack.
A sense of shock has gripped the nation since news of the shooting broke late on Sunday morning local time, even as President Barack Obama said he was “deeply saddened,” and was “reminded how much our country has been enriched by Sikhs, who are a part of our broader American family.”
Speaking at a news conference on Monday morning, Oak Creek Police Chief John Edwards confirmed that Page, who hailed from a neighbouring community, was a “six-year Army enlistee,” who shot the first police officer to arrive on the scene “eight or nine times at close range” after the officer went to assist a victim in a nearby parking lot. After Page continued to fire at arriving police and refused to drop his weapon an officer fatally shot him with a squad rifle, Chief Edwards said.
Regarding the victims of the attack, he added that “five Sikh men and one woman ranging in age from 39 to 84 were killed in the shooting rampage,” and three were wounded, two still in critical condition.
Although initial reports had suggested that there may have been multiple perpetrators, the police chief said Page “was the only shooter that was involved at the temple.” After receiving a “general discharge” from the military, he was “ineligible for reenlistment,” reports said.
Unconfirmed reports suggested that Page was “demoted” in rank from sergeant to specialist, but no reason for this was given. Earlier they noted that the man behind the killings was a tall, balding, white male with one or more tattoos, some related to the 9/11 terror attacks. Such accounts prompted questions about whether this had been a hate crime.
In particular, media reports mentioned the possibility that the alleged killer had confused Sikhs with Muslims, as was the case in numerous attacks on Sikhs in the U.S. that have occurred since the 2001 terror attack.
Particularly the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of the U.S. was quoted as saying “Much of the slander and hate in the past, was directed under the misapprehension that Sikhs follow the religion of Islam.”
However Shaheen Khateeb, president of Indian American Muslim Council, an advocacy organisation of Indian Muslims in the U.S., expressed solidarity with the Sikh community saying, “Today is a day of mourning for all who value human life and cherish freedom of religion...An attack on innocent people in a house of worship is an attack on our collective humanity and common values.”
Earlier on Sunday, Mr. Edwards had said authorities were treating the shooting as a “domestic terrorist-type incident,” and that the probe would be headed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
That evening the FBI put out a statement saying that this “remains an active investigation in its early stages,” and while it was looking into whether the attack might have been an act of domestic terrorism, “no motive has been determined at this time.”
The agency also said it was working closely with the Oak Creek Police Department and other local and federal agencies to investigate the shooting and the law enforcement community “has been deeply impacted by this incident,” particularly by “the officer who was wounded in the line of duty to protect others.”
The Indian embassy in Washington said by mid-day on Sunday its representatives were in touch with the National Security Council, and the Consulate General in Chicago too was in “close touch with the local authorities to monitor the situation.”