OAK CREEK, Wisconsin (Reuters) - The gunman who killed six worshipers at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin was identified as a 40-year-old U.S. Army veteran and authorities said they were investigating possible links to white supremacist groups and his membership in skinhead rock bands.
The assailant, shot dead by police at the scene on Sunday, was identified as Wade Michael Page. He served as a soldier in the Army from 1992 to 1998, said police chief John Edwards in the Milwaukee suburb of Oak Creek where the 400-member temple is located.
Survivors described women and children hiding in the pantry of the temple’s community kitchen as the gunman stormed through the building. “Everyone was falling on top of one another,” said Parminder Toor, 54, speaking in Punjabi as her daughter-in-law, Jaskiran Kaur, translated.
“It was dark and we were all crammed in.” One of the women who made it into the pantry had been shot in the hand, and there was “blood everywhere,” said Toor.
Federal authorities said they were treating the attack as a possible act of domestic terrorism, and were scouring Page’s military records and investigating whether the killing was a hate crime.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, Page was a member of two racist bands named End Apathy and Definite Hate, “a band whose album ‘Violent Victory’ featured a gruesome drawing of a disembodied white arm punching a black man in the face.”
A MySpace page for a band that appears to be one of those identified by the SPLC, End Apathy, includes songs with titles such as “Self Destruct,” “Submission” and “Insignificant,” as well as pictures of three heavily tattooed band members. The singer/guitarist of the band is identified as Wade on the page.
“The music is a sad commentary on our sick society and the problems that prevent true progress,” the band’s profile says.
Page tried to buy goods from the National Alliance, a neo-Nazi group, in 2000, said Heidi Beirich, director of the intelligence project at the SPLC.
The SPLC describes the National Alliance on its website as “perhaps the most dangerous and best organized neo-Nazi formation in America.”
The SPLC drew attention to a 2010 interview with the white supremacist website Label 56 in which Page said he had played in various bands since 2000, when he left his native Colorado on a motorcycle.
Page said of his lyrics: “The 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.”
U.S. military sources said Page had been discharged from the Army in 1998 for “patterns of misconduct.”
Page had served in the military for six years but was never posted overseas. He was a psychological operations specialist and missile repairman who was last stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, the sources said.
In June 1998 he was disciplined for being drunk on duty and had his rank reduced to specialist from sergeant. He was not eligible to re-enlist.
FBI special agent Teresa Carlson said authorities were interviewing Page’s family and associates, searching for a motive behind a shooting that killed six people and seriously wounded three, including a police officer, at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin.
A fourth person was wounded less seriously.
The dead were five men and one woman, aged between 39 and 84. Members of the Sikh community said the president of the congregation and a priest were among the victims.
American Sikhs around the country added security to temples, with some saying they have been singled out for harassment since the September 11, 2001, attacks because they are mistaken as Muslims due to their colorful turbans and beards.
Describing how the events unfolded, Chief Edwards told reporters the first officer on the scene found a victim in the temple parking lot and went to render assistance. The officer was then shot eight or nine times at very close range with a handgun, Edwards said.
The gunman then fired on a police car, ignoring officers’ commands to drop his weapon, and was shot and killed by police.
The wounded officer was identified as Brian Murphy, 51, a 21-year veteran of the force. Even though he had been hit, Murphy had waved away other officers coming to his aid, urging them to go into the temple to help others, Edwards said.
Edwards said they were confident Page was a “lone gunman.” A man who had been declared a “person of interest” was interviewed and cleared by the FBI, a law enforcement official said.
Bernard Zapor, special agent in charge for the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said the weapon used in the shooting was a 9mm handgun that had been legally purchased. Page emptied several magazines and several more unused magazines were found on the scene.
Wisconsin has some of the most permissive gun laws in the country. It passed a law in 2011 allowing citizens to carry a concealed weapon.
President Barack Obama said Americans need to do more “soul searching” to find ways to reduce violence.
“All of us recognize that these kinds of terrible, tragic events are happening with too much regularity,” Obama said at a White House bill-signing ceremony when asked whether further gun control measures were needed.
The shooting came just over two weeks after a gunman killed 12 people at a theater in Aurora, Colorado, where they were watching a screening of the new Batman movie.
There are 500,000 or more Sikhs in the United States but the community in Wisconsin is small, about 2,500 to 3,000 families, said local Sikhs. The Sikh faith is the fifth-largest in the world, with more than 30 million followers. It includes belief in one God and that the goal of life is to lead an exemplary existence.
Jaskiran Kaur, 27, who left the temple with her two children just minutes before the shooting broke out, remembered the president of the temple, Satwant Singh Kaleka, who was among the dead: “Any time anyone needed anything, he was there,” she said.
The Sikh Coalition, a civil rights group, said on Monday it had set up a fund to support the victims and their families.
“While we continue to be cautious about rushing to judgment, it is important to note that this is only one of a growing number of incidents of violence that Sikhs have experienced in recent years,” Sikh Coalition Executive Director Sapreet Kaur said in a statement.
Additional reporting by Ian Simpson, David Ingram, Missy Ryan and Phillip Stewart in Washington, Colleen Jenkins in North Carolina, Edith Honan in New York and David Bailey in Minneapolis; writing by Ian Simpson and Claudia Parsons; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Anthony Boadle