Gunfight at the Sikh temple: Lessons learned

What we can learn from the heroism and difficulties officers experienced at Oak Creek


During a recent webcast presented by Department of Homeland Security and Dupage College in Illinois, Brian Murphy and Sam Lenda — two officers who bravely engaged and ultimately defeated the highly trained neo-Nazi Wade Michael Page — told their story of the gunfight at the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. 

At about 1028 hours on the morning of August 5, 2012, Lieutenant Brian Murphy of the Oak Creek Police Department was the first to arrive at a disturbance call at the Sikh temple. He drove down the long, blind driveway to discover the parking lot area quiet. Murphy radioed to instruct approaching backup — Officer Sam Lenda — to enter via the same driveway.

Unknown to Murphy, Page had already killed six — including the valiant Sikh priest who engaged the suspect while armed only with his Kirpan (a curved knife that is the religious symbol of his personal commitment to protect his nation). 

A Holy Man and a Hero
The priest’s death was not in vain, for it allowed several parish members to lock down 15 children in a pantry area, call the police, and then conceal themselves. Murphy’s immediate arrival and approach saved these lives by diverting the killer from his evil mission.

As Murphy exited his squad and drew his weapon, he immediately located two obviously deceased victims lying next to some parked cars. Murphy scanned the lot and spotted the tattooed suspect, wearing a white T-shirt and black BDUs, as he burst out of the front doors of the temple. 

Page had a gun in his right hand, and he brought it up to fire at Murphy. 

As Murphy called in “man with gun” over his radio, he fired at the suspect. At the same moment the suspect fired at Murphy. 

“I missed. He didn’t,” Murphy said.

The round — which struck his chin and throat— was “not as devastating as you might think,” because after being struck by this round Murphy moved quickly to cover and quick-peeked out to acquire a sight picture on the suspect, who was now gone. 

The military-trained Page changed directions and executed a flanking movement. As he emerged from behind Murphy, Page opened fire, blowing off part of Murphy’s thumb, knocking the gun from his hand. 

Murphy acknowledged, “Now that one hurt!”

Murphy now hunkered beneath the parked car, protecting his vitals, while weathering the rounds that rained down on him.

Lenda Arrives
Simultaneously, Sam Lenda drove into the temple parking lot as directed, but because of the lay of the land, what was transpiring in the lot was not visible from the street.

As Lenda pulled up on the scene he saw Page firing, but could not see his friend. Page turned immediately and fired toward Lenda. After he reloaded smoothly, he continued to fire alternately between Murphy and Lenda.

Murphy used the reload to make a dash for his squad, which contained another weapon. After hitting Murphy repeatedly, it must have shaken Page to have that same officer suddenly spring up and run toward his squad. 

Page surely knew he had to contend with two officers.

A Lesson Learned Hard
Lenda chose to arm himself with the squad carbine, and in doing so he discovered a blind spot in his extensive training. Although he was a firearms instructor and SWAT sniper, he had never effectively practiced dismounting directly into an ambush. 

Lenda had to use both hands to manipulate the double security release on the weapon mount. The mount had a “three second delay” — a long, long time when someone is shooting at you. Once the weapon was released, the sling became tangled in the Tracs (Traffic and criminal software). After finally freeing the sling, he attempted to exit the car, but was foiled by the seat belt.

Lenda released his seat belt and exited as a round smashed through the windshield and into his headrest. The exploding safety glass slapped Lenda hard, embedding glass fragments into the right side of his face.

Lenda ignored the pain and positioned himself in the “V” between the door and the frame of his squad.

He squeezed the trigger. 

“Click!”

Nothing.

He quickly charged the weapon and fired a round at Page, who was now running laterally, while firing at Lenda “gangsta style,” but Sam missed. 

He consciously thought there would be time to be embarrassed about the miss later. 

Sam concentrated on the sights, breathed, and squeezed.

“Bang!” 

Page went down instantaneously, but rolled into some shrubs. Moments later there was one more shot from the shrub. An autopsy would later reveal that Lenda’s second shot, which hit Page, was not survivable. 

Page, apparently realizing his killing spree was over, turned his gun on himself.

A Message From Sam Lenda
Sam Lenda said that the gunfight at the Sikh temple revealed a training flaw. During all his prior training, his long gun was always already out when he fired it. He had not trained sufficiently in what he now knew to be a critical skill needed by all officers — dismounting into an ambush. 

In spite of this training scar, the longtime SWAT operator/sniper, street cop and firearms trainer — whose buddies affectionately call “Sambo Rambo” — improvised, adapted, and overcame in this, his second officer-involved shooting.

I think — and PoliceOne Editor in Chief Doug Wyllie agrees with me — that this dismounting drill suggested by Sam Lenda should be called the “The Lenda-Murphy Drill,” to honor the indomitable courage of these warriors, as well as to give valuable context to the training.

A Message From Brian Murphy
Lieutenant Murphy, who was shot 17 times, survived his wounds. Murphy attributed his survival to deciding — while being shot! — that he was not going to die in that parking lot. 

Nothing the neo-Nazi did could kill the lieutenant, who refused to give up.

Murphy’s closing message was this: Regardless of how bad things appear to be, “Never give up!”

About the author

Lt. Dan Marcou retired as a highly decorated police lieutenant and SWAT Commander with 33 years of full time law enforcement experience. He is a nationally recognized police trainer in many police disciplines and is a Master Trainer in the State of Wisconsin. He has authored three novels The Calling: The Making of a Veteran Cop , S.W.A.T. Blue Knights in Black Armor, and Nobody's Heroes are all available at Barnes and Noble and Amazon.com. Visit his website and contact Dan Marcou

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