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Sikh Temple Shooting Victims Described By Families And Friends

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Women react outside the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek, Wi, after a shooting Sunday, Aug 5, 2012.
Women react outside the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek, Wi, after a shooting Sunday, Aug 5, 2012.

MILWAUKEE -- A religious leader willing to do anything for his beloved, tight-knit Sikh community. A former farmer who left his fields in rural northern India and found a new home at the temple. A joke-telling Sikh priest whose family had just arrived from India. The mother who gave everything of herself for her family and her faith. A pair of brothers who lived together a half a world away from their family to serve as temple priests.

These six were killed Sunday by a former Army soldier at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in the Milwaukee suburb of Oak Creek. Here are their stories.

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The president of the temple died defending his gift to the next generation.

Satwant Singh Kaleka, 65, managed to find a simple butter knife in the temple and tried to stab the gunman even after being shot twice near the hip or upper leg, his son said Monday.

Amardeep Singh Kaleka said FBI agents hugged him Sunday, shook his hand and said, "Your dad's a hero" for fighting to the death while protecting others.

"Whatever time he spent in that struggle gave the women time to get cover" in the kitchen, Kaleka said. One of the women was his mother, who called police using her cellphone while hiding from the gunman.

Relatives said Kaleka dedicated his life to the members of the Oak Creek temple, of which he was considered the founder. He was also one of the lead investors in the building's construction.

His nephew Jatinder Mangat said Kaleka was always willing to help out with any job.

"He doesn't care what he's wearing, what he's doing, he'll just be there for you," Mangat said. "We used to say `It's OK, we'll have somebody else do it,' and he'd say, `No, no, I'll do it,' even if it was a dirty job. He'll do anything."

Another nephew, Gurmit Kaleka, also spoke of his uncle's willingness to serve.

"He was a great guy who always believed in social service. He was always willing to help anyone who came his way," Kaleka said.

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Paramjit Kaur finished her morning prayers, a daily ritual for the deeply spiritual mother of two, and walked into the temple's front hallway Sunday and was fatally shot.

Kaur's friends remembered the 41-year-old wife Monday as sweet, outspoken and devoted to her family and her faith. They said she was also hard-working – spending 11 hours a day, 6 days a week, in production at a medical devices firm in order to provide for her children.

"I'll miss her so much," said 42-year-old Manpreet Kaur, of Franklin, who described herself as Paramjit Kaur's closest friend. They are not related.

Manpreet Kaur said that when she gave birth to her son this year, Paramjit Kaur would visit her in the hospital after she got off work, bearing food for the new mom.

"She always knew what I needed and would bring it for me," said Kaur, who noted that Paramjit Kaur had been a recent immigrant to the United States when she herself arrived seven years ago.

Co-worker Baljit Kaur, 45, of West Allis, said Paramjit Kaur talked incessantly and was very friendly. She was also very religious, Baljit Kaur said.

"She prayed every day for an hour to an hour and a half, even when she working," Baljit Kaur said.

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Suveg Singh Khattra was a constant presence at the temple. Most days, his son, a taxi driver, would drop him off there to pray.

Khattra and his wife moved to the United States eight years ago to join their son. On Sunday, the 84-year-old former farmer from northern India was shot and killed.

"He don't have hatred for anybody. He loved to live here," said son Baljinder Khattra, who moved from the family's farm in Patiala, a city in Punjab, in 1994.

Kulwant Kaur, the elder Khattra's daughter-in-law, hid with the other women in the pantry. When a SWAT team evacuated them, Kaur saw Khattra's body lying on the ground.

She tried to touch him to see if he was awake, but officers warned her not to touch anything, said Kaur's son, Mandeep Khattra.

"They told them to keep moving because they were priorities over the bodies," he said.

The elder Khattra spoke no English, communicating instead with neighbors and friends with his hands.

"He (was) very humble. He loved all peoples," Khattra said.

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Prakash Singh's wife and teenage children were living in the temple. Recently, they had moved from India to join the Sikh priest in Wisconsin.

Navdeep Gill, an 18-year-old temple member from Franklin, said Singh had rented an apartment nearby and his family was due to move in by the end of the month. Singh's son and daughter will start school soon; the daughter is in high school and the son is going to be a freshman in high school.

As a Sikh priest, Singh performed daily services, which would have included recitations from the religion's holy book, leading prayers and lecturing on how to practice Sikhism.

Gill said Singh had a fun-loving personality – "telling jokes and whatnot" – and looked nothing close to his age of 39.

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Ranjit and Sita Singh shared the bonds of brotherhood – as siblings and as Sikh priests, both in Wisconsin to serve their faith. The rest of their family is in India, left to make sense of their deaths.

Some 16 years ago, Ranjit Singh, 49, came to the United States for better opportunities, leaving his wife and their children behind until he could get a green card so they could come join him.

"My husband had only one dream. To see his children settled abroad," Kaur said as she sat surrounded by grieving family and friends in her modest two-story home in a Delhi neighborhood.

In the meantime, he made it his responsibility to take care of everyone who visited the temple.

The temple's secretary, 56-year-old Inderjeet Singh Dhillon, said Monday that Singh made sure guests were well fed, even if he couldn't always express it in English. Dhillon remembered an occasion when five English-speaking visitors stopped in and Singh insisted – using only gestures that made those at the temple who knew him laugh – on "food for everybody."

It was the same with Singh's brother, 41-year-old Sita Singh, who had arrived in the United States a year ago. Though Sita Singh was quieter than his brother, he was no less dedicated to the temple's visitors. Both men lived at the temple.

Dhillon said that the younger Singh would wake up every morning between 4:30 and 5 to read the Sikh holy book. Afterward, he would see which visitors had come in and ensure all had prasad, the food offering given at the end of every prayer session.

"It was very important to him that whoever came always left with prasad," Dhillon said.

The elder Singh brother became a mentor to some of the temple members, including Shehbazdeep Kaleka, a 19-year-old from Racine and the nephew of the temple president.

Kaleka said Monday that he turned to Ranjit Singh when he was down and needed advice, because Singh was a positive person.

Singh's most common advice to the 19-year-old was to sing and sing loudly – it didn't matter what or how well – and that would lift his spirits.

"It worked every time," Kaleka said, pausing. "He was a very good and honest man. He didn't deserve to die."

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Associated Press writer Muneeza Naqvi contributed to this report from New Delhi.

Earlier on HuffPost:

Sikh Temple Shooting Victims and Families
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