Wade Michael Page, the man identified as the gunman who killed six people in a Sikh temple near Milwaukee before police shot him dead, was a former U.S. Army serviceman and a member of several white-supremacist rock bands.
Page was identified by authorities yesterday as the slain suspect in the shooting in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. The 40-year-old’s participation in bands with names that included Definite Hate drew the notice of groups that monitor extremist activity.
Described as a “frustrated neo-Nazi,” Page started a “racist white-power” band called End Apathy in 2005, according to the Montgomery, Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center, one of the monitoring organizations. It said it had been tracking Page for a decade. The shootings are being treated as an act of domestic terrorism by the FBI, unlike a mass murder by a lone gunman in a Colorado movie theater last month.
“There’s a lot of sorrow, a lot of confusion” in the Sikh community, said Swarnjit Arora, 71, who met with members of the congregation after the Aug. 5 killings. He said he was one of the first Sikhs to come to Milwaukee, in 1972.
“I’ve been here 40 years and had a most wonderful life in Milwaukee,” Arora said. “People have been exceptionally kind and sweet, they have great respect.”
Page, who had recently rented an apartment in nearby Cudahy, served in the Army from 1992 to 1998. His duties included repairing Hawk missile systems at Fort Bliss, in Texas, and psychological operations at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, according to a defense official who asked for anonymity, saying he wasn’t authorized to speak for the Army.
The FBI defines domestic terrorism as acts by U.S.-based individuals or groups that involve violence against the populace or government, without “foreign direction.”
While authorities said they believe Page was the lone shooter, they also sought to question a white man wearing sunglasses and a T-shirt who appeared at the scene about 12 miles (19 kilometers) south of Milwaukee, according to Teresa Carlson, an FBI special agent in charge. Oak Creek Mayor Steve Scaffidi later told CNN that the man had been located, questioned and cleared as a possible suspect.
Several months before the shooting, more than 90 members of Congress asked to have the FBI monitor hate crimes directed at Sikh adherents. The lawmakers cited a “growing concern” in an April 19 letter to Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI Director Robert Mueller. Sikh men often wear beards and turbans. Its members are sometimes confused with Muslims.
Started 500 years ago in South Asia, the Sikh faith has about 27 million followers, mostly in India, according to the Associated Press. It said the number of Sikhs in the U.S. is estimated at about 500,000.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, a Sikh, said in a statement he was “shocked and saddened” by the crime in Wisconsin. India “stands in solidarity with all the peace-loving Americans who have condemned this violence,” he said.
President Barack Obama said he and first lady Michelle Obama were “deeply saddened” by the shooting. The president spoke by telephone with Scaffidi, Charanjeet Singh, a trustee of the Sikh Temple, and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, a Republican. Mitt Romney, the probable Republican nominee for president, called the shooting “a senseless act of violence.”
The shooting prompted authorities to tighten security around Sikh temples in New York as a “precaution,” according to a statement from the city. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP, and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly visited a Sikh cultural center in Queens yesterday.
Oak Creek is a city of about 34,000, with a median household income averaging more than $66,000 a year in 2006 to 2010, almost 29 percent more than the statewide figure, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. About 6.7 percent live in poverty, compared with almost 12 percent statewide.
Several children saw the gunman firing and alerted women who were cooking a meal to follow the 11:30 a.m. service, Arora said. Some hid in a pantry and were unharmed, he said.
If the gunman had arrived an hour later, when the service was to begin, as many as 300 people would have been present, said Arora, who teaches econometrics at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He said about 1,500 Sikh families live in the area and attend two temples, the other one in Brookfield.
The shooter’s weapon, a legally purchased 9mm pistol, was recovered at the scene, according to Bernard Zapor, special agent in charge of the St. Paul, Minnesota, field division of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Page bought the gun July 28 at Shooters Shop in West Allis, Wisconsin, about 12 miles from his home, and picked it up July 30, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which cited unnamed people familiar with the investigation.
Store manager Eric Grabowski said he didn’t recognize a photograph of Page and didn’t recall him visiting the shop, which has a basement firing range. He called ATF officials who told him they couldn’t discuss a case under active investigation, he said.
The store gets about 1,000 customers a week, he said. He hadn’t checked the records to see if and when the purchase was made. Sales are logged by a number linked to when the shop acquired the gun, not the date of purchase, he said.
Three injured men, including police Officer Brian Murphy, 51, were treated at Froedtert Hospital in Milwaukee. Murphy was resting with his family after surgery. He and the other two wounded men remained in critical condition, hospital officials said yesterday. One of those killed was Satwant Kaleka, the temple president.
Less than a month earlier near Denver, a masked gunman opened fire at a midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises” in a suburban Aurora theater, killing 12 and injuring 58. James Holmes, a former graduate student in neuroscience at the University of Colorado in Denver, faces multiple murder charges.
While in the service, Page was awarded two Good Conduct citations and a Humanitarian Service medal, according to Army records. Paul Prince, an Army spokesman, said Page was “administratively discharged” in 1998. Oak Creek Police Chief John Edwards told reporters the suspect was “ineligible for re-enlistment.”
In 2000, Page rode his motorcycle away from his home in Colorado and became involved with white-supremacist hate groups, including racist skinhead bands, said Heidi Beirich, director of the intelligence project at the law center.
‘Tyranny and Hypocrisy’
End Apathy’s topics “vary from sociological issues, religion, and how the value of human life has been degraded by being submissive to tyranny and hypocrisy that we are subjugated to,” Page said during a 2010 interview with Label56, which the law center said is a white-supremacist website. The center said Label56 also produces records and distributed recordings by Page’s bands.
Page also described himself as a member of “Hammerskins Nation,” a skinhead group rooted in Texas that has branches in Australia and Canada, the AP reported, citing the SITE Monitoring Service, a Maryland-based firm that tracks extremist activity online.
He pleaded guilty to criminal mischief in Houston in 1994, was sentenced to 180 days of probation and had a 90-day jail sentence suspended, according to court records. The records didn’t provide details.
In Wisconsin, Page lived on the second floor of a gray duplex on a quiet tree-lined Cudahy street of mostly single-family homes about 5.4 miles from the temple.
“He seemed normal,” said Peter Hoyt, 53, who lived a block away from Page and would talk with him as Page sat on the porch. “He was real laid back.”