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Sikh temple holds 1st Sunday service since attack

Associated Press Modified: August 12, 2012 at 6:18 pm •  Published: August 12, 2012

OAK CREEK, Wis. (AP) — Hundreds of people who gathered at a Sikh temple in suburban Milwaukee spoke of unity, strength and rebirth during the first Sunday service there since a gunman killed six people before fatally shooting himself.

The service capped a weekend of events meant to honor the victims and restore the temple as a place of worship. While there were still tears and red eyes, many participants said healing was under way.

Visitors removed their shoes outside and filed past portraits of the victims, shuffling down a flower-lined aisle into the main prayer room. They dropped dollar bills in front of a shrine where their holy book sits and bowed for two to three seconds. Then they sat on the floor —women on the left, men on the right — their heads covered with scarves, and listened as a priest recited religious hymns.

Those at Sunday's service included Sikhs from as far away as California and about 50 from Cleveland, who chartered a bus to make the eight-hour drive to support their community.

"It's an emotional day but it's getting better," said Justice Khalsa, 41, of Milwaukee, who visits the temple three or four days a week. "I'm smiling and laughing now, but once this group goes away and we're back to our regular schedule, it will be haunting, I'm sure."

The proceedings began in the parking lot with a "nishan sahib," or a ceremony in which participants clean a Sikh flagpole to symbolize the temple's rebirth.

Women sang hymns as a group lowered the pole. About 50 people, mostly men and boys, unwrapped a faded orange cloth that covered the pole, washed the pole with water and milk and then rewrapped it with a darker orange cloth. The group then filed inside the temple for more prayers and hymns.

Wade Michael Page, 40, used a 9 mm pistol to kill six people and wound four others, including a police officer, in an ambush that took place shortly before a service was to begin Aug. 5. He shot himself after being wounded by another police officer.

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