Confronting Evil: Reliving the Sikh Temple shooting

OAK CREEK (WITI) -- All eight members of the Oak Creek Police Department who responded to the shooting at the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek in August of 2012 received the "Top Cop" award from the National Association of Police Organizations.

The group visited the White House on Saturday, as part of National Police Week ceremonies in Washington, D.C.

It has been nine months since Wade Michael Page opened fire on a Sunday morning at the Sikh Temple -- killing six, before turning the gun on himself.

Before that, Oak Creek Police Lieutenant Brian Murphy and Oak Creek Police Officer Sam Lenda found themselves confronting evil -- as the two were the first to the scene that tragic day -- meeting Page in the Sikh Temple's parking lot.

"It was just a beautiful, sunny day," Lenda remembers.

The sun was shining on an August morning, bathing the Sikh Temple in a golden glow.

"It was the kind of day you don't really mind going to work," Lt. Murphy said.

The weather was no indication of the tragedy about to unfold. It was Sunday morning, August 5th, 2012.

21-year veteran of the Oak Creek Police Department, Lt. Brian Murphy was filling in for another officer, who was attending his son's graduation. At 10:26 the clock changed -- and so did everything else.

"There's a long drive that goes up toward the temple.  I parked at what would be the west entrance.  And I saw two individuals down," Lt. Murphy said.

Lt. Murphy was the first on the scene. He came upon two men, lying motionless on the asphalt -- the first indication of the massacre in progress.

"Realized pretty quickly that they were deceased, at least in my estimation," Lt. Murphy said.

Then, something else caught Lt. Murphy's eye.

"From the minute he walked out and I caught eye of him -- you just knew his movement. Everything about him was wrong," Lt. Murphy remembers.

Lt. Murphy had spotted Wade Michael Page, the white supremacist who opened fire on peaceful worshippers at the Sikh Temple -- and now he was gunning for Lt. Murphy.

Lt. Murphy could have retreated to his car and waited for backup. Instead, the Marine veteran, without hesitation pulled up his 45 revolver and confronted a killer.

"Part of it was the old saying, 'he who hesitates is lost.'  I called for him to stop. That's when he raised his gun and we both shot pretty simultaneously. Unfortunately, mine missed and his hit," Lt. Murphy said.

The first shot hit Lt. Murphy in the face.

"He hit me right in the chin here and it went down and destroyed my larynx. And it's now lodged in my neck," Lt. Murphy said.

That first shot left Lt. Murphy with a gravelly whisper of a voice.

"I had been standing up when I took the shot, and realized, 'okay, let's get down and get cover,'" Lt. Murphy said.

Video from a camera mounted on the dashboard of Lt. Murphy's vehicle shows him go down. Off screen, he took cover under a parked car. Lt. Murphy now admits it was a tactical mistake that left him exposed.

Page -- a former soldier, exploited it and circled around Lt. Murphy's back.

"He actually flanked me, and I again, I gave it a few seconds and said 'okay, he's not coming to my right.  Let me stand up and see where he's going,' and at that time, that's when I stood up, and he was probably six, seven feet just to my rear," Lt. Murphy said.

Page fired shot after shot. In all, Lt. Murphy was hit 17 times. Five shots plowed into Lt. Murphy's vest, but 12 pierced his body.

"There became a point probably midway through the second volley of rounds that it went from concern to anger. Concern: I have to get moving. I have to do something, to the point I just thought, 'When is enough enough? 'Have you not shot me enough times?'" Lt. Murphy said.

Page paused to reload. During that moment, Lt. Murphy says he thought of his family and sister, who had waged a long battle with cancer.

The two men stood six feet and a world apart.

"He never got close enough, and I don't know why, because really if he wanted to thoroughly just execute me, he could have stood directly over me and done so," Lt. Murphy said.

Instead of a close-range execution, Page raised his gun, and from six feet away, aimed for Lt. Murphy's head.

"The next to last shot was the one he hit me in the back of the head with. That was really the only point where I felt I was in trouble. It was after the shot to the back of the head that I realized 'this is not going my way,' but I was able to stay conscious and I was able to stay calm. I just thought to myself, 'I'm not going out like this. There's not enough of you and there's not enough bullets,'" Lt. Murphy said.

In the distance, Lt. Murphy heard the faint sound of sirens. Page and Lt. Murphy had exchanged shots, but no words.

"Nothing.  I had an expectation that there would be anger, there would at least be excitement.  There would be something there, and there was nothing," Lt. Murphy said.

Though it seemed like hours to Lt. Murphy, backup arrived just two minutes after Page first started firing. Arriving on the scene was the best marksman on the force -- Officer Sam Lenda.

"I'm one of our members of our SWAT Team, I'm a firearms trainer, I'm a rifle trainer. Every round that the city ever paid for me to practice with and to shoot came through that day," Lenda said.

Lenda said when he arrived at the Sikh Temple -- the first thing he saw was Page.

"When I pulled in, I was kind of startled to see a guy in the parking lot and at first, I thought he was waving at me," Lenda said.

It was soon clear that man was Page, and he wasn't waving. He was shooting from 60 yards away.

"There were things whizzing by my head, and I'm sure you've seen the video and I look back at that now, and I say, 'just inches.' For everything he shot at me, he missed.  I had just slid off my seat and was yelling at him when a round hit the window and I got splattered in the face with glass," Lenda said.

Stinging but steadfast, Lenda found his rifle and fired a shot that ended the rampage.

"He was not getting out of that parking lot.  If I couldn't get him with a rifle, I was going to run him over with my squad, and if that didn't work I was going to take him down with my hands. He wasn't going to leave," Lenda said.

Then, Lenda immediately went in search of Lt. Murphy -- his friend for two decades.

"20 years. I remember his children growing up. That's my partner. That's a battle buddy of mine," Lenda said.

When Lenda found Lt. Murphy bleeding in the parking lot -- Murphy had one message: "There's people inside who are hurt. Let's take care of them."

He was up on his elbows trying to signal to us, 'keep going,'" Lenda said.

"My thought was help other people. I know there's at least two down. If there's two down and he took that much time to come shoot me, then I know he shot more people," Lt. Murphy said.

"One of the hardest things I had to do was step over Brian, and that's a trained response. It was very tough to do that. To step over him, not to just reach down, being the first one there to help him, but I knew I had a mission to do and that's where our training kicks in," Lenda said.

Lenda's job was to secure the Temple, where six worshippers had been killed and three others were wounded.

Meanwhile, Lt. Murphy was rushed to Froedtert Hospital in critical condition, where he would spend the next 12 hours in surgery and the next 18 days in the hospital. Lt. Murphy pulled through and became an inspirational figure -- a symbol of resilience in the distressing aftermath of a mass shooting. He also worried he could become a political pawn in the simmering gun control debate.

"What my thoughts really are don't affect the gun debate whatsoever. My answer is you can make all the measures you want. My shooter -- the Sikh Temple shooter -- would have passed any background check and would have got a weapon," Lt. Murphy said.

Lt. Murphy was invited by President Obama to be a special guest at the State of the Union Address. He had been told by White House officials that President Obama may use his words in the speech.

"As we sat up in the gallery, everybody has a copy of the speech, and I was just watching everybody flip pages and flip pages, and I was distinctly told, they may not use it.  I thought 'that's absolutely fine.'  So they were actually on the last page of the speech and I thought 'it's never going to happen, but it's still cool to be here," Lt. Murphy said.

Then came the climax of the address, when President Obama reference Lt. Murphy.

"You grew up doing a job that you love to do and all of a sudden you have the President of the United States basically quoting you? You know, it's always the opposite, so it was overwhelming, really. We had the opportunity to meet him shortly after, and I was towards the back of the line and when I met him, he shook my hand and he said, 'Brian I just wanted to know I saved you for last because I wanted to leave the American people with your message.' What kind of legacy is that?," Lt. Murphy said.

The legacy is one of unblinking bravery in the face of overwhelming danger. Lt. Murphy and Lenda have been honored as Citizens of the Year in Oak Creek and Hometown Heroes by the state Legislature.

However, both bristle at the word "hero."

"You realize when you go to the funerals of officers who have fallen, those are heroes.  Those are the real heroes. We're lucky. Hero? No. Lucky? Yeah," Lenda said.

"I think the term 'her'o somehow has changed meaning over the last 20 years, 30 years.  One of the reasons I shy away from it is, you talk to Sam.  If he was first he would have did what I did," Lt. Murphy said.

Lt. Murphy will likely never return to the force because of what he calls his physical "limitations."

"I had to stop a person in the street to button my top button today. Normally my wife takes care of that," Lt. Murphy said.

Lt. Murphy is physically weakened, but both men are somehow spiritually stronger.

"It instilled my faith in something greater. Everything that happened that day had a reason for it.  Like I said before: There is evil that is among us, and we confronted evil that day," Lenda said.

"I'm fortunate.  Other than losing the tip of my thumb, I'm whole, and more importantly, the inside of me is whole," Lt. Murphy said.