published Friday, August 10th, 2012

Thousands expected to honor Sikh temple victims

Members of the Sikh temple of Wisconsin wash items as they return for the first time in Oak Creek, Wis., Thursday, Aug 9, 2012. The mass shooting last Sunday claimed six members of the temple. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)
Members of the Sikh temple of Wisconsin wash items as they return for the first time in Oak Creek, Wis., Thursday, Aug 9, 2012. The mass shooting last Sunday claimed six members of the temple. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

DINESH RAMDE

OAK CREEK, Wis. (AP) — Thousands of mourners were expected to gather Friday morning to pay their final respects to the six worshippers gunned down by a white supremacist at their Sikh temple over the weekend.

Organizers initially allocated two hours for a wake and visitation at a nearby high school. But they added two hours to accommodate both mourners from around the world and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder as a last-minute speaker.

The service will include prayers and hymns. Afterward mourners plan to return to the temple and begin a traditional rite called "akhand path," a ceremony that involves a series of priests reading their holy book aloud from cover to cover. The process, which takes 48 hours, is intended to honor the memories of the six victims.

"We want to pay homage to the spirits who are still in there," said Harpreet Singh, the nephew of one of the victims.

Other dignitaries expected to attend the funeral include Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan.

Federal investigators might never know for certain why 40-year-old Wade Michael Page chose to attack total strangers in a holy place. What they know is that the Army veteran opened fire with a 9 mm pistol at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin shortly before Sunday services.

Page killed five men and one woman, and also injured two other men. Authorities say he then ambushed the first police officer who responded, shooting him nine times and leaving him in critical condition. A second officer then shot Page in the stomach from about 75 feet away, and Page took his own life with a shot to the head.

The officer who was injured, Oak Creek Police Lt. Brian Murphy, was upgraded Thursday to satisfactory condition.

The dead included Satwant Singh Kaleka, 65, the temple president who was shot as he tried to fend off Page with a butter knife.

The other victims included:

— Ranjit Singh, 49, and his 41-year-old brother, Sita Singh, two priests whose families were back in India and whose lives in America revolved around their faith;

— Suveg Singh Khattra, 84, a former farmer in India who was a constant presence at the temple;

— Prakash Singh, 39, a priest who was remembered as a fun-loving personality who enjoyed telling jokes; and

— Paramjit Kaur, 41 who worked 66 hours a week to provide for her family, but also found time to pray every day for at least an hour.

The FBI had roped off the temple for four days while agents conducted their investigation. They handed the keys back to Sikh leaders Thursday morning, and workers spent the entire day cleaning up, repairing bullet damage and repainting walls.

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