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Mrs Obama visits Wisconsin temple; Sikhs touched by gesture

August 24, 2012 08:59 IST

United States First lady Michelle Obama on Thursday met victims and families of those killed in the August 5 massacre at the Sikh temple of Wisconsin, in a private gathering at Oak Creek High School.

According to a White House press pool report, temple secretary Kulwant Singh Dhaliwal and Oak Creek Mayor Stephen Scaffidi greeted a sombre first lady in a hallway of the school, where more than 3,000 mourners turned out this month for a funeral for the six Sikhs murdered by white supremacist Wade Michael Page. 

"It's my honour to be here with you," Obama told them almost in whisper. "I am sorry it is under these circumstances, but I am anxious to meet with the families and lend whatever support I can."

The First Lady did not take questions from the media during the brief greeting, and reporters were not permitted in the meeting with victims and families.

Obama spent a little over 30 minutes with the victims and families at the school.

Dhaliwal, who did not attend the meeting with families, said he was touched by the First Lady's concern.

Dhaliwal told Obama, "It is very nice of you to come and share our grief. This means a lot to all of us and helps the situation. We truly appreciate for you to take time to visit all the affected families and convey your condolences and feelings."

He later told media persons, the "First Lady was very gracious. She told me that 'please let me know if I can do anything to help'".

Amardeep Kaleka, son of the late Satwant Kaleka, the president of the temple who was killed while trying to protect others, said of the First Lady's visit: "It felt sincere. She knew about my father and what he had done. She called him a hero and said that he should be remembered for the good that he had done."

Families began to line up in the hallway outside the gymnasium about 20 minutes before Michelle Obama's visit, and those who planned to attend said they were looking forward to her visit.

"He is very excited," Gurjeet Singh said of his uncle, Santokh Singh, who was critically injured in the deadly rampage perpetrated by Page that left seven dead, including the gunman -- who killed himself -- and four others injured. 

"He can hardly walk or stand because of the stitches, but we are going," Gurjeet Singh said.

Santokh Singh was released from Froedtert Hospital last week, and Oak Creek Lt Brian Murphy, who was shot at least eight times by Page, was released Wednesday. A third victim, Punjab Singh, remains in critical condition on life support.

Five others besides Kaleka were others killed -- the three priests, Prakash Singh and brothers Sita and Ranjit Singh; Paramjit Kaur; and Suveg Singh Khattra.

Sikh Americans welcomed the visit by the First Lady, who also met with the family of Lt Murphy privately in a separate room.

Dr Rajwant Singh, chairman of the Sikh Council on Religion and Education and an influential Sikh American leader, said: "This healing touch of the First Lady helps the families tremendously. Her visit goes a long way to assuage the feelings of hundreds of Sikh families across the nation."

He said, "The Sikh community is thankful to the Obamas for their support and their kind gesture during this difficult time. Their embrace of the Sikhs represented the feelings of millions of Americans during this national tragedy. All Sikhs across the US say -- Thank you America!"

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC