Michelle Obama visited Milwaukee this week to meet with family members of those killed and injured in a Sikh temple shooting this month.
“It’s my honor to be here with you,” Obama told Temple secretary Kulwant Singh Dhaliwal and Oak Creek Mayor Stephen Scaffidi during a brief exchange before meeting with the families.
“I’m sorry it’s under these circumstances, but I am anxious to meet with the families and lend whatever support I can,” she added.
The meeting was held away from the press and was not open to the general public.
The White House said the first lady’s visit Thursday was part of the administration’s outreach to the Sikh community after the Aug. 5 shooting.
Rajwant Singh, the chairman of the Maryland-based Sikh Council on Religion and Education, said her visit was a welcome gesture.
“It is important that these families hear firsthand how she and the president feel about this terrible tragedy,” he said.
A gunman killed six people attending Sunday services before killing himself. The gunman was associated with white supremacists and neo-Nazi groups. Investigators say they may never know for certain what prompted his attack.
While the president himself has not traveled to Milwaukee after the shooting, Attorney General Eric Holder attended a memorial service.
As the Sikh community in this Milwaukee suburb continues to mourn the dead, they have taken solace in one fact: The killing has drawn attention to their religion and given them a chance to share traditional Sikh messages of peace and justice with a global audience.
“There’s a prayer we say twice a day, asking God to please give peace to everybody and give progress to every person in this birth,” said Inderjeet Singh Dhillon, one of the temple leaders. “We don’t mention a person’s name or color or religion. We just say one word for every human on Earth.”
There are an estimated 200,000 to 500,000 Sikhs living in America. However, it’s not uncommon for Sikhs to keep to themselves, leaving non-Sikhs to wonder from afar about Sikh customs.
Sikh leaders in the U.S. have tried to change that. They have encouraged people of all faiths to visit their temples and sit with them on the floor to partake of free meals. One of those leaders was Satwant Singh Kaleka, the president of the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin and one of the six people killed Aug. 5.
Kaleka tried to fight off the gunman with a butter knife, buying time for others to hide in the temple. The gunman, white supremacist Wade Michael Page, later killed himself during an ensuing gun battle with police.