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After the Sikh Temple Shootings: What's Next?

Now that media attention on Oak Creek has died down, Sikh Temple of Wisconsin members and the Oak Creek community try to move forward.

After the Sikh Temple Shootings: What's Next?

National television networks are no longer camped out behind Classic Lanes.

The vigils have passed. The community mourned together at Friday’s funeral, and on Sunday the temple reopened.

For the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, a new reality is setting in.

It has been 11 days since a lone gunman entered the Howell Avenue temple , fatally shooting six members and injuring four more.

Families of the victims begin lives without parents or grandparents, siblings, cousins and children. The temple holds services without its president and five other valued members.

They go on the way they are taught: by stepping up and filling a role, said temple member Beant Singh Boparai.

For Boparai, it means welcoming into his home family members of Punjab Singh, a priest who was critically injured in the attacks, and taking them to Froedtert Hospital for visits.

For others, it means volunteering in the temple kitchen, or counseling children struggling to understand what happened.

"We are trying to get on our feet," Boparai said.

But for the most part, temple members are in good spirits, he said. That's a big part of the Sikhs' peaceful mission and teachings. The Sikh community even forgives the shooter, Wade Michael Page, and prays for him and his family.

"Difficult times come and go. It doesn't stay there all the time," Boparai said.

"If there is a dark, there will be a light also."

That outlook has made it easier for members to return to the place where such a violent outburst took place. Boparai said he and many others feel comfortable there despite what happened, though children might feel afraid.

Police Chief John Edwards said the department is working with the temple to make sure members feel safe. Though the temple is again open to the public, police still had a presence there Wednesday morning, with a squad car parked in the lot.

Signs of support

When it comes to support, Sikhs don't have to go far to find it.

Walk into the entrance area of the Oak Creek Sikh Temple and you are constantly surrounded by it. 

Not just from the temple's kind and compassionate people, who are more than willing to speak to any Oak Creek resident about any question they have (and many have stopped by since Monday).

But with the large banners that have come in from all over the country — and even the world.

They came from Colorado, from Canada, from California and elsewhere, with signatures and words of comfort during the Sikh Temple's difficult time. Sikhs and non-Sikhs across the nation held vigils last week in response to the horrific violence in Oak Creek.

Boparai said the response has been overwhelming. He said he's still getting phone calls from people just asking how they can help.

"They are coming here around the clock, every day," he said.

The Sikh Temple, in turn, erected a large banner along on Howell Avenue thanking Oak Creek for its response (Though some  on the Oak Creek Patch Facebook page countered that it should be the city thanking the Sikh Temple for its peaceful response and openness following the shooting.)

Oak Creek rebounding, too

The Oak Creek community, too, is trying to heal and stay united following the most violent event in the city's 57-year history.

After a traumatic first few hours, particularly with reports of multiple gunmen, the community quickly went into support mode for members of the Sikh temple and the family of Oak Creek Police Lt. Brian Murphy, who was shot as he went to aid shooting victims.

Mayor Steve Scaffidi wants to keep the support going and use the experience to improve relationships within the city.

He plans to help set up a liaison for the Sikh Temple — someone who city officials could reach out to with questions and for the Sikh community to relay concerns to the city.

Scaffidi also said he wants to fill an open position on the Community Development Authority with a Sikh Temple member.

That person would be "directly involved in a committee that's responsible for the development of our city," he said.

"I think that's a good match."

The temple's trustees, too, are discussing ways to become more involved in Oak Creek, Boparai said.

Incorporating the Sikh community into the fabric of Oak Creek has been discussed often over the past week. But in many ways, the temple already was a quiet part of the community — it just took a tragedy for residents to realize it.

Many families live in the community. Dozens of children from the Sikh temple attend Oak Creek schools. Boparai, for example, has a sophomore at Oak Creek High School and another son who graduated from OCHS and is enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Aug. 5 may have marked the end of one chapter for the Sikh temple and the city, but the hope is the next chapter is one that celebrates diversity and inclusion.

"We're a city whose diversity is growing," Scaffidi said. "That's a good thing. It enriches the life experience ... I'm going to embrace that, and I want our citizens to embrace it as well."

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