The gunman who killed six worshipers at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin was a convicted criminal who had been brought to the attention of Federal authorities and monitored by civil rights groups because of his ties to the white supremacist movement.
Wade Michael Page, a skinhead who played guitar in neo-Nazi rock bands, had been prosecuted for drunken driving and criminal mischief. But he was nonetheless able to legally purchase the 9mm handgun and ammunition used in Sunday’s attack.
“He brought it legally; he was not an ineligible person,” said James Santelle, the US attorney for the disctrict which takes in Oak Creek, the town near Milwaukee where the mass-shooting was carried out.
The Los Angeles Times reported today that federal investigators had repeatedly “looked at” claims that Page was helping fund domestic terror groups in recent years. He played guitar for several skinhead rock bands, and had been pictured performing under Swastikas.
Citing an un-named “senior US law-enforcement official,” the newspaper added that authorities had been unable to find sufficient evidence of wrongdoing to open any formal investigation.
Page, 40, arrived at the Temple at around 10am, as regulars were gathering for a weekly service. Witnesses say he approached a priest standing outside, shot him, then reloaded and entered the building’s lobby. Blood evidence suggests that he was then injured in a struggle with a second man, who later died from his wounds.
Police arrived shortly afterwards and shot Page dead. One officer remains in hospital after being among the three people seriously wounded. The attack is being treated as a “hate crime” and there are suspicions that he wrongly believed the victims to be Muslims.
Teresa Carlson, the FBI official in charge of the investigation into Sunday’s attack told reporters that the agency was now: “looking into [Page’s] ties to the white supremacist movement.” She added that investigators currently had no evidence to suggest that Page had any accomplices."The definition of domestic terrorism is the use of violence for social or political gain. That's obviously what we are looking at."
It has meanwhile emerged that Page was jailed in Texas for 60 days in the mid-1990s after being found guilty of “criminal mischief,” and had also racked up at least one drink-driving conviction. Neither his criminal record, nor the fact that authorities had looked at his suspected links to far-right terrorist groups, were enough to prevent him passing the federal background check required to legally purchase firearms in the US.
The Springfield semi-automatic handgun used in the attack was duly purchased at a local gun-store called The Shooter Shop. Small, easily concealed, and capable of firing large amounts of ammunition in a short time, is similar to the handguns used by both James Holmes, the perpetrator of the Aurora cinema shooting, and Jared Lee Loughner, who killed six people, and wounded Congresswoman Gabriell Giffords, in Tuscon last year.
The attack has sparked widespread soul-searching among the 500,000 Sikhs who live across America, and have been victims of hundreds of reported hate-crimes in the years since 9/11. On Monday night, hundreds gathered at a temple in the nearby town off Brookfield to pay their respects to victims. Scott Walker, the State’s governor, told community leaders that: “in addition to mourning with you, we support you.”