MILWAUKEE >> His community under attack, Sikh Temple of Wisconsin president Satwant Singh Kaleka fought back with all his strength and a simple butter knife, trying to stab a murderous gunman before taking two fatal gunshots to the leg.
Shot nine times and left for dead as he tended to a wounded victim outside, Oak Creek Police Lt. Brian Murphy tried to wave off his colleagues’ aid, insisting worshippers indoors needed their help more.
Under fire in the temple parking lot, 32-year veteran Oak Creek police officer Sam Lenda took aim and shot back, downing the gunman who refused to drop his weapon after killing six people as they gathered for Sunday services.
Kaleka, Murphy and Lenda — one dead, one critically injured and one physically unharmed — are being hailed as heroes for saving lives in the shootings that sent more shockwaves through the nation just two weeks after a gunman killed 12 people inside an Aurora, Colo., movie theater. Police say gunman Wade Michael Page, a 40-year-old Army veteran and former leader of a white supremacist heavy metal band, unloaded a 9 mm handgun at the temple. They have not determined a motive.
What they have done is hailed the actions of those caught in the crossfire.
Kaleka, 65, helped found the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in 1997 with a couple dozen families. They met in rental halls as the congregation grew to about 1,000 before it moved into its current location five years ago.
Staring down the gunman Sunday morning, Kaleka managed to find the butter knife and tried to stab Page before being shot twice near the hip or upper leg, his son Amardeep Singh Kaleka said Monday.
His son said FBI agents hugged him Sunday, shook his hand and said, “Your dad’s a hero.”
“Whatever time he spent in that struggle gave the women time to get cover” in the kitchen, said Kaleka, whose mother was among more than a dozen women and children who took cover as Page forced his way into the temple. She dialed 911 while hiding.
It took less than four minutes for Murphy, a 21-year veteran and native New Yorker who was a finalist to be chief two years ago, to arrive on the scene. He saw a victim lying in the parking lot and was tending to him when Page approached.
Page shot Murphy at “very close range” nine times, Oak Creek Police Chief John Edwards said.
“He clearly was in a blaze of gunfire,” said Dr. Gary Seabrook, director of surgical services at Froedtert Hospital, where Murphy and two other survivors were treated.
Moments after Murphy was shot, more officers arrived at the scene. Lenda was among them.
He and the other officers heard gunshots, but didn’t know who had been hit. They did know that a man with a gun was walking toward them.
The officers ordered Page to stop, drop his weapon and put his hands up. Instead, Page fired at least two rounds, hitting one of the squad cars.
Lenda returned fire with his department-issued rifle, and Page went down.
Lenda and other officers radioed Murphy, who was supposed to respond with his badge number, but they didn’t hear back.
They soon saw him lying on the ground.
“As they approached him, he waved them off. He had been shot nine times, one of them very serious in the neck area, and he waved them off and told them to go into the temple and assist those in there,” Edwards said Monday.
Despite his pleas, officers removed Murphy from the scene, quickly carrying him to a squad car before entering the temple.
While Murphy remained hospitalized in critical condition Monday, Edwards said he was resting and surrounded by his family. Lenda did not wish to discuss the shootings Monday.
“Lenda does not consider himself a hero and is not interested in being a part of any story to that effect,” said Jim Palmer, executive director of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association. “He feels as though he was only doing his job.”