First lady meets Sikh shooting victims’ families

Michelle Obama meets with families at Oak Creek high school

First lady Michelle Obama met with families of those killed and wounded earlier this month in the shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin.

Temple official Kulwant Singh Dhaliwal said Obama offered her sympathies Thursday for the Aug. 5 tragedy. He said her appearance is a “wonderful gesture.”

She met with families in a hallway of the Oak Creek high school.

Dahaliwal said Sikhs have taken comfort in the knowledge the shooting has at least helped them educate the world about their religion.

Amardeep Kaleka is the son of the temple president, one of six people killed. Kaleka said his father is educating more people about Sikhism in death than he could in life.

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Local Sikhs also reacted to Obama’s visit. Sikhs in Middleton said they were comforted by Obama’s willingness to reach out to the community, saying it will help further their goal of educating the world about their religion.

“That makes a big difference,” said Middleton temple member Udaivir Singh Sirohi, who didn’t meet Obama. “That shows we are being felt as part of the larger U.S. community.”

Sirohi doesn’t feel snubbed that the president didn’t come with his wife on the visit.

“He has other things to do, but if he could find a time, it would be a great thing. But sending Mrs. Obama is a great thing, too,” Sirohi said.

Milwaukee’s mayor has also met with the Sikh community and Wisconsin’s governor did twice.

As for their safety, Sirohi said the Middleton Police Department continues to patrol the temple during Sunday services. 

Meanwhile, 19 U.S. senators have written to Attorney General Eric Holder asking that the U.S. Justice Department begin tracking hate crimes committed against Sikh-Americans.

In a letter dated Thursday, the senators referenced the Aug. 5 shooting at the Sikh temple in Oak Creek. The letter said Sikhs are susceptible to violence because many Sikh men wear turbans and long beards.

The Justice Department tracks hate crimes against certain religious groups. The senators want Sikhs added to that list. A message left with the Justice Department wasn’t immediately returned.

Neither Wisconsin senator was among the 19 who signed the letter. Messages left with both senators’ offices weren’t immediately returned.

Earlier on Thursday, Michelle Obama was welcomed by a crowd of 2,000 at Milwaukee’s Bradley Tech High School, where she stumped for her husband’s bid for re-election.

Speakers leading up to Obama included U.S. Senate candidate Tammy Baldwin and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

The first lady took time to focus on the principles of her father, and how it parallels with the president’s campaign message.

“My father’s life is a testament to that basic American promise that no matter who you are, no matter how you started out, if you work hard, you can build a decent life for yourself and an even better life for your kids,” Obama said.

The rally follows a just-released poll showing Republican challenger Mitt Romney gaining ground on Obama in Wisconsin.

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