Oak Creek Sikh Community Marks Fifth Anniversary of Tragic Shooting

Aug 4, 2017

This weekend marks the fifth anniversary of the fatal shooting at the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek. A Gunman entered the facility on a sunny Sunday morning, killing six worshippers and injuring several others. The event left deep scars on local Sikhs, and touched many others as well.

On a recent Sunday Morning, Sikhs at the temple reflected on how the day of the shooting changed their lives. Pardeep Kaleka lost his father, Temple President Satwant Singh Kaleka, in the tragedy. He died trying to protect others as the gunman opened fire.

"That day for me, because I was so close to it, and because we were almost there, I think about my children,” said Kaleka. “The -- what could have happened?”

That day Kaleka’s daughter had forgotten her notebook at home, so they were running late.

“That was the only reason we turned around, and were able to miss the shooting happening.”

Kaleka says his life changed that day in many ways.  In the immediate days after the shooting, Kaleka said he found himself both grieving for his father, and experiencing post-traumatic stress.

"What you’re doing, you’re becoming hypervigilant. You are starting to look at exits for facilities, find out where can I hide if a shooter does come in here,” said Kaleka.

It took a while for his fear and acute pain to subside, and for him to come back to the place where it happened.

“At first, it was very hard to come back to the Gurdwara and the prayer hall. Hard to see the bullet hole. Hard to see all the reminders. As time went on and we processed that pain, it transformed. Now, when I look at that, I look at all of the good that came out of it.” 

Kaleka considers the bullet hole a reminder of what he and the rest of the Sikh community, in Oak Creek and around the world, have overcome. Instead of focusing their pain inwards, Kaleka and others, like Nirmal Kaur, have made it their mission to reach out to non-Sikhs and to educate them. Kaur says she's also become more faithful.

“I used to run away from here before 2012, I would run away, say I don’t want to be here. I would just come do the service, eat a meal and get out. I didn’t want to get too much involved with the temple. But after 2012, (I) started coming here more, started feeling like these things that happened -- even the hate crimes that are happening -- that we need to get out. Not sitting in here educating people. We need to get out of the temple educating people," Kaur said.

Some non-Sikhs also have become involved with the Oak Creek temple in the years since the shooting. Holly Sennett says she was influenced by the positive spirit of Baba Punjab Singh, a priest who was severely injured in the shooting. He now can only communicate by blinking. For a time, Sennett worked with him, as a speech therapist.

“You know, there is a concept in Sikhism, chardhi kala. Chardhi kala means to be in a state of hope and optimism, relentlessly in our minds, regardless of the circumstance. One of the things that I learned the most from Baba Punjab Singh, is when his family would come and ask him, daily, if his mind is still in a state of optimism: are you in chardhi kala? -- every time without hesitation, he would double blink his eyes, which is the affirmative answer -- yes. If the community could be in that state, he can remain that way, everyone, we all should be in a state of relentless hope and optimism,” said Sennett.