August 23, 2012 / 10:55 PM / 7 years ago

Michelle Obama offers condolences to Sikh temple community

MILWAUKEE (Reuters) - First lady Michelle Obama on Thursday offered condolences to family members of victims of the Wisconsin Sikh temple shooting during a private meeting near the scene where a white supremacist gunman opened fire earlier this month.

The meeting was held at the Oak Creek High School, down the street from the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, where six worshippers were killed and four others, including a police officer, were wounded on August 5.

“It’s my honor to be here with you,” Obama told Temple secretary Kulwant Singh Dhaliwal and Oak Creek Mayor Stephen Scaffidi during a brief exchange before meeting with the families.

“I’m sorry it’s under these circumstances, but I am anxious to meet with the families and lend whatever support I can,” she added.

The meeting was held away from the press and was not open to the general public.

Killed in the shooting were temple president Satwant Singh Kaleka, 65; Sita Singh, 41; Ranjit Singh, 49; Prakash Singh, 39; Paramjit Kaur, 41; and Suveg Singh, 84.

The shooter, Wade Michael Page, 40, had links to racist groups. He opened fire on worshippers at the temple as they prepared for Sunday services. The Army veteran was shot in the stomach by a responding police officer before killing himself.

Investigators have not determined why Page targeted the Sikh temple.

Oak Creek Lieutenant Brian Murphy, the wounded police officer, who was shot eight or nine times, was released from the hospital on Wednesday. Punjab Singh, 65, who was shot once in the face, remains in critical condition, according to Milwaukee’s Froedtert Hospital.

“The focus of First Lady Michelle Obama’s visit centered around the importance of continuing to honor and grieve the lives of Americans that were lost on Sunday, August 5th. She also offered strength to our family as we continue to care for our father Punjab Singh who is still fighting for his life,” said Singh’s two sons, Raghuvinder Singh and Jaspreet Singh.

Earlier on Thursday, 19 senators sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, calling for more thorough data collection and analysis of hate crimes against Sikhs in the United States.

Sikhs are targeted because many wear turbans and have beards, making them an “easy target for harassment and crime,” the letter said.

The shooting at the Wisconsin temple is the latest in a string of hate crimes against Sikhs, including two Sikhs being gunned down in California and a Sikh transit worker assaulted in New York City.

Before the meeting at the temple, Obama held a campaign rally at Bradley Tech High School in Milwaukee for her husband.

Additional reporting by Deborah Charles; Editing by Greg McCune and Sandra Maler

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