10 lessons learned from the 2012 Sikh temple terror attack

It's been almost five years since the attack, and the lessons learned remain relevant to all police officers today


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Domestic terrorism can occur any time at any place. There are no geographic or location constraints. Since 2001, we have seen acts of domestic terrorism on military bases, at places of worship, in workplace environments, in major cities – the reality is that no place is exempt. The lessons learned from the attack at a Sikh temple in 2012 should be adopted by officers and every police department.

1. Be prepared for a potentially life changing/ending call anytime, anywhere.

A makeshift memorial is seen before a candlelight vigil in the parking lot the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin Monday, Aug. 5, 2013, in Oak Creek, Wis. Monday is the one-year anniversary of the shooting rampage when a white supremacist at the temple where six people were killed. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
A makeshift memorial is seen before a candlelight vigil in the parking lot the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin Monday, Aug. 5, 2013, in Oak Creek, Wis. Monday is the one-year anniversary of the shooting rampage when a white supremacist at the temple where six people were killed. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

On August 5, 2012, at approximately 10:30am, the founder of the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, 65-year-old Satwant Singh Kaleka, was preparing the temple for services. Wade Michael Page, the assailant, invaded this house of worship and opened fire. Six individuals died from this act of domestic terrorism.

Someone reported the disturbance and officers from the Oak Creek Police Department were dispatched.

2. Stopping or impeding an active killer takes a deliberate act of courage.

As the assailant sought out victims, the 15 children inside the temple were led into a kitchen pantry in hopes of saving them from the rampage. Kaleka bravely and deliberately placed himself between the assailant and the hidden children armed only with his kirpan, a ceremonial knife carried by Sikhs.

There is no nobler deed than to sacrifice one’s life in the defense of innocents as Kaleka did on this day. While there were no witnesses to the struggle waged between Kaleka and Page, it is safe to speculate his efforts ensured that his was the last innocent life lost that day. The children were spared.

3. Immediate engagement by initial responding officers saves lives.

Lt. Brian Murphy was the first Oak Creek police officer to travel down the blind drive into the parking lot of the Sikh temple. He immediately discovered two deceased victims. Murphy exited his squad and scanned the area for threats. Luckily for the 15 children in hiding, Murphy’s arrival distracted the assailant.

4. Prepare for highly trained adversaries.

As Murphy drew his weapon, the assailant, dressed in a white T-shirt and black fatigues, exited the front door of the temple and began walking calmly toward him. As Murphy radioed this fact to the dispatcher and responding units, the assailant suddenly broke into a run laterally across the parking lot while bringing his 9mm semi-automatic pistol to bear on Murphy.

The assailant was U.S. military trained in combat tactics, and he employed those skills. Murphy immediately recognized the assailant’s lateral movement as an attempt to make himself a hard target. Murphy radioed while firing at him, “Man with a gun, white T-shirt.” The shots went over the radio and alerted Officer Sam Lenda, who was a short distance away.

5. Wear a bullet resistant vest.

Murphy would later say, “I missed. He didn’t.”

The lieutenant was hit initially in the throat and chin. Unfazed, he moved to cover and tried to re-acquire the assailant. The assailant had executed a flanking maneuver and came up behind Murphy. When Murphy spun to re-engage, the assailant shot him, knocking Murphy’s gun out of his right hand and blowing apart his right thumb.

As a result of this confrontation, the assailant continued to fire and bullets rained down on Murphy. To stay as safe as possible during this gunfight, Murphy moved under a car he was next to in order to protect his vitals, while keeping his vest toward the suspect and making himself a small target.

In short order, Murphy was hit fifteen times by the assailant, but because he practiced these tactics and wore his vest that day, he survived the horrific attack.

6. Train for the sudden patrol rifle dismount.

As Lenda arrived in the midst of the attack, the assailant directed his fire frantically in two directions, causing him to miss.

Lenda found himself having to operate the mechanical release on the patrol rifle-mount and his seat belt simultaneously, while the window of his squad was being shattered by gunfire.

Both Lenda and Murphy were SWAT trained, and Lenda was a well-respected firearms instructor in Wisconsin. He would later encourage all officers to not only practice drawing their sidearm, but also practice for the sudden patrol rifle dismount.

7. Ignore the pain until the fight is over.

The shattered glass of his windshield slapped Lenda’s face as it embedded into his flesh. He deliberately decided to ignore the pain and finish the fight. He moved quickly to the “V” between his open squad door and the door frame and prepared to engage the assailant as rounds zipped past him.

8. Use long guns for accuracy over long distances.

Lenda fired his patrol rifle at the moving assailant, but his first shot missed. The officer took careful aim and fired a second time. The assailant instantly went down and rolled into some shrubs.

While hidden in the shrubs, the assailant realized he had been mortally wounded by Lenda and deduced his murderous rampage was over. The gunman died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

9. Always choose life.

Murphy believes that he survived the barrage directed at him because he consciously told himself he was not going to die in that parking lot. He now gives presentations to officers on survival, and  tells them that they will increase their odds of surviving a life or death encounter when they deliberately choose life.

10. Never give up.

Murphy believes his mantra before the Sikh temple attack kept him alive. It is simple, but powerful: Never give up.

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