Wisconsin Sikh Temple Shooting: One Week Later
A St. Louis area religious leader with Milwaukee ties says 'lack of intellect' and frustration are often behind attacks like the Sikh temple shooting and such tragedies will continue.
As reported by Oak Creek, WI Patch, the shooter is identified by police as Wade Michael Page who was shot and killed by police at the scene.
According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Page was a white supremacist and tried to recruit others to participate in the shooting rampage. He reportedly used a 9mm handgun and multiple magazines of ammunition.
Five men and one woman, between the ages of 41 and 84, were killed in the shooting, according to investigators.
Officials said they are pursuing several leads, but don't yet have a motive.
Many around West County, including religious leaders, spoke with Patch the day of the shootings and shared their thoughts and concerns.
The news of the tragedy hit particularly close to home for one member of West County's United Hebrew Congregation. Cantor Ron Eichaker lived in Wisconsin from 1983 to 1999 and had contact with the Sikh temple there during his time in Wisconsin. He said although the temple where last Sunday's shooting occurred did not exist at the time, there was a different primary Sikh temple in the area.
Eichaker, an ordained Jewish minister who now serves his West County congregation, spent much of his time with different faiths while in the Milwaukee area.
"I was really involved, deeply in the interfaith community. Not just in Milwaukee itself, but throughout the the state," Eichaker tells Patch. He said he spoke with many congregations about Judaism.
He said Milwaukee was considered one of the most segregated cities in America and it worked hard to relieve itself of that title.
"We as clerics in the Milwaukee metropolitan area worked very hard so we could break down the neighborhood walls, the invisible walls created by the segmentation of the community," Eichaker said.
However, Sunday's shooting is a horrible reminder there may always be work to do. Although Eichaker did not personally know the shooting victims, he said he's certain he knows members of the congregation.
"My first reaction on Sunday was frustration bordering on anger, but I was not particularly angry because that's not an emotion that is necessary at this point," he tells Patch.
He said one of the saddest parts about this tragedy is that it happened to a population that he considers very peaceful and kind.
"Very generous and very open. Very friendly. Never ones to criticize others," Eichaker tells Patch. "This was my contact with every one of the members over my years there."
Although police have not yet released a motive for the shooting spree, Eichaker echoes a point that many others have shared with Patch.
"They would often say that they were mistaken for Muslim. And found it, not a concern, not negative, but they found it interesting that people would look at them and just assume by their appearance that they must be Muslim," Eichaker explained. "Appearances can be very deceiving, especially in this day and age."
He said the real reason behind attacks like last Sunday's is most often ignorance.
"Bigotry at its core is a bi-product of lack of education, sophistication or emotional maturity. These are people who can't, don't or won't understand. And their personal frustration becomes played out in very violent ways. It's usually their own personal frustration," Eichaker tells Patch. "You're not necessarily dealing with a high intellect there."
He said he dealt with that ignorance and bigotry first hand as he visited many of the outlying areas of the Milwaukee area. He would visit churches in communities with white supremacist cells so reports of the gunman's ties to the extremest group is not surprising to Eichaker.
"Every state has it's harbingers of bigotry and Wisconsin is no different. Some of the communities spin off subgroups that find their way into other parts of the state. This we know. To be honest, it's no different from what happens in Missouri," Eichaker said.
However, he points out that within these communities there are "good people" who are concerned with the bigotry. He said that is often where religion comes in and the importance of understanding it.
"Religion at it's core teaches love, it teaches repose, it teaches reverence for human life and reverence for deity. That's what religion is."
Although that lack of understanding may lead to more tragedies, Eichaker tells Patch that these acts of violence actually have the opposite affect of what they are intended to do.
"These kinds of things are going to happen. They have been happening...and they will continue to happen, unfortunately," he tells Patch. "The wedges these extremists, these purveyors of violence try to drive between us, it binds us together as a people."
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