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Healing begins as shock lingers among victims, local officials

Jaspal Farwaha holds a candle during a prayer vigil in the aftermath of Sunday morning’s shooting at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin. The vigil was held Monday at the Oak Creek Community United Methodist Church.

Jaspal Farwaha holds a candle during a prayer vigil in the aftermath of Sunday morning’s shooting at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin. The vigil was held Monday at the Oak Creek Community United Methodist Church. Photo By Peter Zuzga

Aug. 7, 2012

Oak Creek - "Oh God, it is in your hands - everything."

Jaspal Farwaha said those were among her thoughts as she hid in a pantry within the Oak Creek Sikh temple Sunday as gunman Wade Michael Page wreaked havoc in her place of worship, killing six before he was shot and killed by police.

Farwaha softly spoke about her ordeal as she waited to join a crowd of about 100 attending a special vigil Monday on a lawn in front of Oak Creek Community United Methodist Church, 8675 S. 13th St.

Noting that she was among about 15 women, men and children who hid from the gunman, Farwaha described a chaotic confusion of not knowing the details of the danger and if it still existed.

"I was at the temple early," Farwaha said. "I picked up my cellphone before hiding and I called my husband, who I knew would be coming. I whispered in the phone, 'Don't come to temple, don't come to temple.' "

During the first 24 hours following the tragedy, Farwaha said she has felt the kindness of friends and strangers.

"My American friends and my Indian friends have been so nice," she said. "They have brought us food and water. They want to help."

Healing vigil

Farwaha said it was helpful to attend Monday's vigil, which included songs and prayers led by Oak Creek Community United Methodist Church's pastor, the Rev. Paul Armstrong. Among those in the audience were County Executive Chris Abele and Congresswoman Gwen Moore, both of whom greeted Farwaha.

The vigil was quickly put together by a close-knit group of church members as well as Armstrong, said Terese Zinn.

"We have a lot of people - especially young members - who have been involved. This has been on everyone's mind," Zinn said.

The vigil also attracted nonmembers of the church such as Julie Winchell, a longtime resident.

"I wanted to be part of this because it affects our whole community," Winchell said. "Places like Oak Creek and Franklin are considered to be safe and upscale. It's nice to see the community coming together. You never know. Be prepared."

Official thoughts

Also attending the vigil was Oak Creek Alderman Dan Jakubczyk, whose district includes the Sikh temple.

"I have been an alderman for the past three years and I have never had one complaint or comment about the temple," Jakubczyk said, expressing the still-lingering shock of Sunday's killing spree. "This does not happen in Oak Creek. It happens in other communities."

Before the vigil, the Oak Creek Common Council quickly met, dispatching most of its agenda to Aug. 21.

Mayor Stephen Scaffidi offered a prepared statement that included thanking local police, fire and other first responders as well as Salvation Army and American Red Cross personnel. He said federal officials remarked privately and publicly that they had seen an outstanding level of cooperation among local police and fire jurisdictions.

He also described the character of the Sikh community as strong and gracious in the face of adversity.

"Our city hosts 23 churches and places of worship and that is a sense of pride - it should be a sense of pride," Scaffidi said. "The diversity strengthens our community and makes Oak Creek a place where everyone is welcome and feels safe. Although this challenges that concept, we will learn from this and we will move forward.

"Our peace was shattered on Sunday morning by this act of violence, a beautiful summer morning in Wisconsin," he added, "but we are not going to forget these events and we won't forget the victims."

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