Sikh Temple of Wisconsin remembers 10th anniversary of shooting

Seven people died when a white supremacist opened fire at Oak Creek's Sikh Temple on Aug. 5, 2012, and the community continues to remember the victims a decade later.

For some, the journey to mark the anniversary began thousands of miles away. The Sikh Motorcycle Club left Stockton, California early Sunday morning with a purpose.

"It’s a chance to reflect on the Sikh-American experience and how the Sikh community has responded to these sort of events," said Tejpaul Singh Bainiwal.

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On the 10-year anniversary, the ride is also about solidarity. Bainiwal is among the dozen riders who made the journey to Oak Creek on their bikes, sharing their experience along the way.

"Every time we make a stop, we are just educating people about what the turban is.  Educating fellow Americans about who we are; what the Sikh faith stands for," he said.

Sikh Motorcycle Club leaves from Stockton, California to honor victims in Oak Creek

"The memories are so vivid. It feels as though it was yesterday or a few days ago," Navi Gill.

"My dad was the president of the temple. He was one of the founders and a proud Sikh American," said Pardeep Kaleka.

Kaleka joined FOX6 Wakeup on Friday, sharing his decade of healing. Part of his mission is to end hate crimes.

"On a day-to-day basis, I just have to step up as a leader," Kaleka said. "I think for the broader Sikh-American community there is a reality that safety is not always guaranteed."

Kiran Gill is with the Sikh American legal defense and education fund.

"Ten years later, I think there’s been some progress made.  There is certainly a long way to go," Gill said.

It was a 2,700-mile journey for Bainiwal. On the road, he thought about how the tragedy can be remembered as something that brought so many closer together.

A night of remembrance Friday honored those lives lost. They held the flame of unity close to their hearts.

"I have to live with it every single day," said Kamal Kaur, who lost her father in the shooting. 

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"My brother and I came to temple every Sunday except that Sunday for whatever reason," Kamaljit Saini, who lost his mother, said. "About 25 minutes later was when I started getting the phone calls that something had happened at the temple."

"I just see all this caution tape like all around everywhere," said Amairs Kelka, who lost her grandfather. "At some point they told me, ‘Your grandpa is shot.’"

Shooting at Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek

It was a day Kaur, Saini and Kelka will never forget. Their loved ones and four others were killed.

"Life’s a lot different now," said Saini.

"I’m reminded every single day one of my family, and now someone else’s is going through it," said Kaur.

Candlelight vigil remembers victims on 10th anniversary of the Oak Creek Sikh Temple of Wisconsin shooting

The tragedy led to inspiration for Saini.

"I told him that I’m going to be a cop one day, and that was 10 years ago," said Saini. "I was sworn in with Racine County Sheriff's Office as a sheriff's deputy."

Officials noted the vigil and all other commemorative events to be held over the coming weekend will follow Wisconsin state public health guidance as it relates to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and masks and hand sanitizer will be available for attendees to use as needed.

Official statements

Organizing volunteers with the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin:

"Ten years ago, our sangat (community) suffered the most devastating attack against Sikhs in our nation’s history. As ever, our hearts remain with the families of Prakash Singh, Paramjit Kaur Saini, Sita Singh, Ranjit Singh, Satwant Singh Kaleka, Suveg Singh Khattra, and Baba Punjab Singh--as well as those who were injured during the shooting, and those who carry the burdens of trauma and loss forward to this day."

"This anniversary means many things to many people. Some still feel painful loss and absence in their households and families ten years later. Others have come of age in the past decade, learning how to lead and finding their voice in the shadow of tragedy. And still others have joined our growing community and become a part of our continuing story. There is room for this commemoration to hold the unique truth that each of us feels." 

"As we reflect on this anniversary, we know that we must continue the shared work of making our society free from bigotry. In the Sikh tradition, we choose to strive for this better world without fear and without hate--and we do so in the spirit of chardi kala, or eternal optimism. This evening, we invite the Oak Creek community to once again stand with us in solidarity and remembrance. But more broadly, we invite everyone across this nation to join us in action as we fight for a country where all of us are safe from hate and hate violence."

President Joe Biden:

When generations of Sikh-Americans in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, constructed their own place of worship after years of renting local halls, it was a sacred place of their own and a connection shared with the broader community. That sense of peace and belonging was shattered on the morning of August 5, 2012, when a white supremacist wielding a semiautomatic handgun arrived at the Gurdwara and began shooting.

The gunman murdered six people and wounded four that day, as well as another victim who survived his wounds only to succumb to them years later. Jill and I know that days like today bring back the pain like it happened yesterday, and we mourn with the victims’ families, the survivors, and the community devastated by this heinous act.

The Oak Creek shooting was the deadliest attack on Sikh Americans in our nation’s history. Tragically, attacks on our nation’s houses of worship have only become more common over the past decade. It is up to all of us to deny this hate safe harbor. No one should fear for their life when they bow their head in prayer or go about their lives in America.

Oak Creek has shown us the way. After the attack, the Sikh community returned to their Gurdwara and insisted on cleaning it themselves. The son of one of the victims became the first Sikh in American history to testify before Congress, successfully calling for the federal government to track hate crimes against Sikhs and other minority groups. Every year, the congregation now hosts an annual memorial run to honor the victims. The event bears the words Charhdi Kala, meaning "eternal optimism."

Fueled by that spirit of eternal optimism, we must continue to take steps now to reduce gun violence and keep our fellow Americans safe. We must do more to protect places of worship, and defeat domestic terrorism and hate in all its forms, including the poison of white supremacy. We must ban assault weapons—used in many mass shootings at houses of worship and other sites across the country—as well as high-capacity magazines. Last week, the House of Representatives passed a bill to do just that. As a matter of conscience and common sense, the Senate must act as well. To stand in defense of religious freedom, we must all stand together to ban the weapons that terrorize congregations around our country.