A vigil for hope and healing as sun sets on Sikh tragedy
After a day of unspeakable violence against Milwaukee's peaceful Sikh community, supporters gather in Cathedral Square Park to offer prayers and support.
On Sunday evening, the sun set on a day of unspeakable tragedy for Milwaukee’s Sikh community. That morning, a gunman entered the temple right before service and opened fire on the men in the sanctuary, killing six, including two priests, and wounding three more, including a police officer, before being gunned down by law enforcement.
In Cudahy, local and federal agents surrounded the home of the shooter, barricading the street and bringing in a full complement of counter-terrorism tools from armored vehicles to, reportedly, sharp shooters.
Meanwhile, at Cathedral Square Park, a quiet vigil was nearly drowned out by the whirring of news helicopters and the screech of seagulls overhead. But the 200 or so people who gathered in the darkness in response to a Facebook invitation lit candles, said prayers and listened to the words of several Sikh mourners.
“Today was a tough day for our religion,” said Manreet Kaur, holding her small daughter’s hand, her husband standing close, his turbaned head lowered. “We lost two of our priests and four other men in our community. But we are a peace-loving people and we will overcome this together.”
Amid murmurs of support and condolence, the woman’s husband, Manjeet S Arora, added “We wish happiness and harmony for everybody.”
Others stepped forward to offer thoughts and prayers, including a man from Indiana who was moved to tears by having met a barista from Oak Creek the day before. But not everyone’s words were equally welcome. When State Rep. Fred Kessler (D-Milwaukee) stepped forward to speak, he was quickly rebuffed by one of the vigil organizers, who cut him off by saying “This is not about politics, it’s about a tragedy. There’s no place for you here.” The woman later apologized to Rep. Kessler, citing an emotional day.
“I probably made a mistake coming here,” Kessler said a little later. “This isn’t about politics for me; I don’t even have a Sikh vote to gain in my district by speaking to this. I just wanted to offer that Wisconsin has a great tradition of welcoming people of different religious and political persuasions… dissenters who came here for both shelter and opportunity. I just hope that today’s tragedy in Oak Creek doesn’t hinder people’s future understanding of our state’s proud tradition.”