Oak Creek — Looking out on a sea of candles Monday night, two young children recounted the horror that unfolded at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin a year ago last August.
They told how they'd heard what sounded like gunshots and how their father, temple priest Prakash Singh, urged them to hide with their mother in the basement.
When the shooting stop and they re-emerged, the children tried to wake their lifeless father, who, his daughter noted, had suffered a gunshot wound through the eye.
"We could hear Satwant Kaleka's last words. They were waheguru, waheguru (wonderful God, wonderful God," Singh's 13-year-old daughter told those who gathered for a prayer vigil commemorating the anniversary of the Sikh Temple shooting that left the temple president, her father and four other worshippers dead that sunny Sunday morning in August.
"We will never forget that day," she said in halting English. "My heart broke in two when I realized my father was gone."
Nearly a thousand people gathered to pay their respects to the Sikh victims Monday and call for an end to the gun violence that kills at least 12,000 Americans a year. They included people of many faiths and all walks of life, religious leaders, government officials and survivors whose lives were shattered by gun violence across the country, from Sandy Hook to Columbine, from Virginia Tech to the deadly streets of Wisconsin and Washington, D.C.
"Tragic shootings like the ones we had in Wisconsin and Newtown have opened the country's eyes to the fact that we have a serious gun problem in America," said Carlee Soto, whose sister Victoria, was killed protecting her students at Sandy Hook Elementary School last year.
"Thirty-three Americans are murdered with guns each day in this country," she said. "And it's time for our leaders in Washington to take meaningful action to stop the bloodshed."
Soto spoke on behalf of the advocacy group Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which is calling on Congress to require background checks for all gun purchases, limit military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and make gun trafficking a federal crime.
As part of its "No More Names" campaign family members of one victim read just some of the more than 7,000 names of those killed since the Sandy Hook massacre that left 26 people, 20 of them children ages 5 to 10, dead nearly eight months ago.
"When people go to pray on a Sunday and are murdered, something is wrong with our country," said Satwant Kaleka's oldest son, Amardeep.
"When children go to school and are murdered something is wrong with our planet."
Monday's vigil was the final event in a four-day commemoration of the Sikh Temple massacre.
On Aug. 5, 2012, white supremacist Wade Michael Page went on a deadly rampage at the temple, fatally shooting six worshipers and wounding six others before turning the gun on himself.
Killed in addition to Kaleka and Singh were Paramjit Kaur, Sita Singh, Ranjit Singh, and Suveg Singh Khattra.
Family members offered moving tributes to each of the victims Monday. At one point, temple president Kulwant Dhaliwal asked the crowd, candles in hand, to join in a Sikh hymn and send their prayers to revered priest Punjab Singh, who remains paralyzed in a rehab facility.
The vigil was was somber and yet hopeful, focusing on the Sikh tenet of Charhdi Kala — a relenless optimism even in the face of great hardship — and the shared humanity of those gathered.
"We come here because of the values we share, the respect for human life and the dignity of every person," said the Rev. Jean Dow, who offered a prayer on behalf of the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee.
"The candles we hold tonight are many," she said, but there is one source of light and life that inspires us all."
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