Sikh Temple shooting anniversary: Son first saw father at funeral

Last Updated: Friday, August 2, 2013 - 22:07

Oak Creek (Wisconsin): Gurvinder Singh approached his father`s open coffin with one thought: "Please, god, it`s not my dad."
As he stepped closer, he realised the man was indeed the father he knew only from photographs. The 14-year-old stood numbly, not crying until officials wheeled the coffin toward a hearse. Then the teenager collapsed in tears, inconsolable, telling his mother he wanted to die in the same flames that would cremate his father.

Ranjit Singh left his family behind in India in 1997, to work as a priest at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin. He always planned to visit Gurvinder, his only son, whom he last saw as a 7-month-old. But last August, two months before the father was to go home for the first time in nearly 14 years, Singh and five others were fatally shot by a white supremacist at the temple. The gunman`s motive still eludes police.

With the anniversary of that day approaching, Gurvinder recently sat in the same temple, down the hallway from where his father was killed, and recounted the few memories he has of the man he knew only from daily but brief phone calls.

"I`ve never seen my dad. I just saw him dead," Gurvinder said softly, shaking his head. "Whenever I look at someone`s dad holding him I can`t see that. It`s hard to see."

Gurvinder, now 15, is quiet and soft-spoken. But he`s quick to smile at people he`s meeting for the first time. He`s also eager to help out at the Oak Creek temple, carrying in boxes of groceries and keeping common areas clean.

He spends nearly every day at the temple. Wherever he goes he`s reminded of the father he never met, from memorial portraits of all six victims that now adorn the lobby, to the bedroom his father called home. He also has a tattoo on the back of his left hand -- the same tattoo his father had -- of Punjabi characters that say, "One god."

But he pauses daily at one place: a single bullet hole, about the size of a dime, in the door jamb leading to the main temple. Temple officials left the hole unrepaired as an eternal reminder, affixing a tiny plaque below it with the date of the shooting and the words, "We Are One."

Gurvinder said it`s not difficult to spend so much time around where his father died. He said death can come at any time to any person, and he leaves it to God to take him or anyone else whenever it`s time.

Still there`s angst, especially about the shooter who eventually killed himself after he was wounded by a police sniper the morning of August 5, 2012. Gurvinder understands that as a Sikh, his religion teaches forgiveness and peace.

But if the gunman were alive, "I would kill him. I don`t speak anything to him, I just shoot him," Gurvinder said. He added that a therapist he`s been seeing for a year has helped him deal with his anger.


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First Published: Friday, August 2, 2013 - 22:07

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