The man who shot and killed six people at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin was a six-year military veteran who legally purchased the handgun used in the attack and who had other weapons stored at his home, police said Monday.
Officials have identified Wade Michael Page as the primary suspect in the Sunday rampage at the temple in Oak Creek, a suburb just south of Milwaukee. The shooting also critically wounded a police officer. Mr. Page was shot and killed by police.
Oak Creek Police Chief John Edwards said Mr. Wade served in the military between 1992 and 1998 and received a general discharge. He was ineligible for reenlistment. Mr. Edwards did not say why. The US Army, meanwhile, said it appeared Page had been demoted at some point during his service, though a spokeswoman could not immediately say why.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization in Alabama that tracks hate groups in the US, said Page was “a frustrated neo-Nazi” who played in a racist white-power rock band called End Apathy. The group recorded for Label 56, a record label known for its links with white supremacist groups.
The center said it first started tracking Page when he purchased goods of some sort from the National Alliance, a neo-Nazi organization it said was once considered “America’s most important hate group.”
FBI Special Agent Theresa Carlson, who heads the bureau’s Milwaukee office, said her agency is looking into whether Page had ties to white supremacist groups and that it is uncertain if he was working alone or with others. The FBI did not have an active file on Page prior to Sunday's shooting, she said, and it was too early to determine a motive for the attack.
“Nobody knew this guy was a threat,” Ms. Carlson said.
Chief Edwards said bystanders noticed another person acting suspiciously at the site of the shooting but that man left the scene before being questioned. The FBI released a photo of that person.
Investigators are analyzing Page’s military record and interviewing his family and associates, as well as examining an apartment he rented in the nearby town of Cudahy, Wis. The Pentagon said Page served as a US Army psychological operations specialist. Before he left the Army at the rank of specialist, he had received five Army Achievement Medals, two Army Good Conduct medals, and an Army Commendation Medal. He did not serve overseas.
The Pentagon also did not say why Page had been discharged and made ineligible for reenlistment. US Army spokeswoman Lt. Col. Lisa Garcia said Page had held a higher rank of sergeant at one point during his service, which likely meant that he had been demoted, possibly she said as a result of a nonjudicial-type punishment that is less severe than court martial.
Police said the gun Page had used in the shooting – a 9 mm handgun – had been purchased legally. It is unclear whether other weapons were involved, how much ammunition Page had, or if he was wearing body armor or other protection.
In an online interview in April 2010 and posted to the Label 56 website, Page said the concept of his band “was based on trying to figure out what it would take to actually accomplish positive results in society and what is holding us back.”
“It requires discipline, strict discipline to stay the course in our sick society,” he was quoted as saying. Regarding the lyrics, Page said, “the topics vary from sociological issues, religion, and how the value of human life has been degraded by being submissive to tyranny and hypocrisy that we are subjugated to.”
About 3,000 Sikh families live in southeastern Wisconsin. Swarnjit Arora, a founder of another temple in the area, said at least four acts of violence against Sikhs took place following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, mainly because Sikhs were often mistaken as Muslims.
Sunday's shooting was “not the first time Sikhs have been a target of horrific violence,” US Attorney James Santelle said.
The police officer who was the first to respond to the shooting and who was shot allegedly by Page has been identified as Lt. Brian Murphy. Officials said he is a 21-year veteran of the department’s tactical unit. He is listed in critical condition.