Son of Oak Creek shooting victim relives experience at Brookfield scene

Pardeep Kaleka attends a candlelight vigil at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek for  victims from the Azana Salon & Spa in Brookfield.

Pardeep Kaleka attends a candlelight vigil at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek for victims from the Azana Salon & Spa in Brookfield. Photo By Angela Peterson

Oct. 23, 2012

Brookfield - Pardeep Kaleka was standing in the temple where his father died when his friend Gurmukh Singh's phone rang early Sunday afternoon.

It was the Salvation Army on the line, telling them there had been a shooting at a Brookfield - temple, Kaleka had thought almost automatically, his mind racing back to the August morning when 40-year-old Wade Michael Page gunned down six worshippers at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek, including Satwant Kaleka, Pardeep's father and temple president.

But it wasn't the Brookfield Sikh temple.

It was the Azana Spa across the street from Brookfield Square mall on Moorland Road. Shots had been fired and police were cordoning off, extracting victims from, and beginning to sweep the scene where it would later come to light that 45-year-old Radcliffe F. Haughton of Brown Deer, bent on killing his estranged 42-year-old wife, Zina, killed her, Cary L. Robuck, 35, of Racine and Maelyn M. Lind, 38, of Oconomowoc, and injured four others before taking his own life.

After the Oak Creek tragedy, Kaleka and Singh had volunteered with the Salvation Army, for grief counseling, among other things. When the call came Sunday, they had about a week of training - much less than the program requires. Nevertheless, the person on the phone wanted to know if they were ready.

Ready? To understand the fear and loss that walks in the door alongside a gunman? To navigate the hysteria?

Kaleka and Singh were at the spa within the hour.

"A lot of people say you go through certain stages of grieving," says Kaleka. "The thing they don't tell you is that you go through those and you go back to one, and you go back to the next one. There's disbelief, and acceptance, and there's sheer terror."

Disbelief, acceptance and terror - the subconscious undercurrents of Kaleka's actions Sunday afternoon as he helped victims and witnesses on scene, and his continual companions when he goes to worship.


"Everything flashes back, and I've been (to the temple) ten times now, and it keeps happening," Kaleka says. "If you drive in on a Sunday, and it's a nice day, like it was that day, the more similarities that those days have, the more you flash back and can't help but to flash back."

And so he found himself on a clear Sunday afternoon, surrounded by police and media and onlookers, offering support outside the scene of a mass shooting.

He did what he could, simply telling some that everything was going to be all right, snapping others back into reality with an offer of food and water, attempting to defray survivor's guilt when he saw it. He revealed his own experience to only three, since he didn't want the focus on himself.

One piece of advice, however, he tried to give to everyone.

"Don't try to make the wound go away," Kaleka recalls telling them. "Try to build your life around this wound now, because, the next time (the salon staff) go to work, they're going to see it. It's going to get easier, but that wound is going to be there."

Spreading message of unity

Healing on a state and national level, says Kaleka, can only come from a grass-roots effort meant to spread understanding and peace. After several hours on-scene, he received a call from a member of Serve 2 Unite, a youth advocacy group he and families of Sikh temple shooting victims founded the day of the shooting to spread religious tolerance and awareness.

They wanted to come and meet up with Kaleka to counsel victims, but at that point most of them had been interviewed by the police and were leaving the scene.

That's how Kaleka found himself back at the Sikh temple in Oak Creek several hours later, at a candlelight vigil organized by Serve 2 Unite, again mourning with the Sikh community, this time for new victims.

The message was the same then as it had been in August.

"As much as I'd love to say that we could pass legislation to have people love each other, you can't," Kaleka says. "You've got to teach people that we share a lot more similarities than differences."


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