OAK CREEK, Wis. — The gunman who killed six people at a Sikh temple south of Milwaukee on Sunday and critically wounded three others, including a police officer, was identified Monday as Wade Michael Page, a 40-year-old Army veteran with reported links to the white supremacist movement.
Page was shot and killed by a police officer outside the temple after he opened fire at Sikh worshipers and at police responding to the scene, Oak Creek Police Chief John Edwards said at a news conference.
Edwards said Page, who lived in a neighboring community, served in the military from 1992 to 1998, received a “general discharge” and was “ineligible for reenlistment.” A Pentagon official said Page rose to the rank of sergeant before being demoted to specialist and leaving the Army. News agencies reported that Page, who was never posted overseas during his six years of service, was discharged for being drunk on duty and other unspecified misconduct.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights organization that monitors hate groups, Page was a “frustrated neo-Nazi who had been the leader of a racist white-power band.” He had been “part of the white power music scene since 2000,” when he left his native Colorado on a motorcycle, attended white power concerts in several states and played in a variety of “hate rock bands,” the center said, citing a 2010 interview Page gave to a white supremacist Web site about his latest skinhead band, “End Apathy.”
Edwards said Page shot the first police officer to arrive on the scene eight or nine times at close range with a handgun after the officer went to render aid to a victim of the shooting he found in the temple’s parking lot. The shooter also fired at two police cars and disobeyed commands to drop his weapon before an officer fatally shot him with a squad rifle, the police chief said.
He identified the wounded officer as Lt. Brian Murphy, 51, a 21-year veteran of the department. Murphy is in critical condition, Edwards said.
At the White House, President Obama was asked after a bill-signing ceremony whether he would pursue gun-control measures in the wake of the temple attack.
“We’re still awaiting the outcome of a full investigation,” he told reporters, adding that “all of us are heartbroken by what happened.”
Obama said such events happen with “too much regularity.” He said he would “examine additional ways to reduce violence” but stopped short of calling for new gun-control laws.
Referring to reports that the gunman may have been motivated by racial hatred, Obama said: “Regardless of what we look like, where we come from, or where we worship, we’re all one people.”
Because Sikh men typically wear turbans, they are sometimes mistaken for Muslims or Arabs, although they are neither.
Police said five Sikh men and one woman ranging in age from 39 to 84 were killed in the shooting rampage. Three other Sikhs were injured, and two are in critical condition, Edwards said. One was treated for an unspecified injury and released, he said.
Page “was the only shooter that was involved at the temple,” Edwards told reporters.
However, authorities also released a photo of an unnamed man, saying he was a “person of interest” whom they wanted to identify and question in connection with the shooting.
Earlier, Edwards said police were investigating reports that the shooter, who was white, may have harbored extreme racial views.
The Southern Poverty Law Center published on its Web site a photo of a man it said was Page, with a symbol commonly used by white supremacists and neo-Nazis tattooed on his left shoulder.
A Defense Department official said Page trained at Fort Sill, Okla., and served at Fort Bliss in Texas and Fort Bragg in North Carolina. Page worked as a repair technician for the Hawk missile system and later was detailed to Psychological Operations as a specialist, the official said.
Sunday’s mass shooting shocked the close-knit Sikh community and horrified Americans of all backgrounds, coming just two weeks after a deadly movie-theater rampage in Aurora, Colo., in which a gunman killed 12 people and injured 58. James Holmes, 24, has been charged in that massacre.
Volunteers had gathered early at the the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, as they do every Sunday, to prepare Indian comfort food to nourish the faithful: lentils, yogurt, and rice pudding. It’s a ritual of inclusion that, according to those who return over and over, helps make Sunday prayers feel like a large family reunion.
“You feel like this is the safest place around,” said Kirandip Jawanda, 21, a data specialist at a local hospital.
But on this Sunday, terrified cooks and other early arrivers were forced into hiding after shots and screams broke their morning peace. Police said the gunman entered the temple and sprayed automatic-weapon fire, killing four people inside the building and two more outside.