Wisconsin's Two Little HeroesMICHAEL LARIS
Oak Creek, Wisconsin, USA
Amanat Singh was dancing in front of the gurdwara here on Sunday morning, cracking up her 11-year-old brother, Abhay.
Amanat had just turned 9, and her family was responsible for preparing a birthday lunch for 300 people. The children’s parents had told the pair to stay inside the gurdwara while they went to a store to get more paper plates.
But the gurdwara was hot, with samosas frying and chapatis on the grill. So the children stepped outside to catch the breeze. That was when they saw the man get out of the car.
As Amanat and Abhay turned back to their play, they heard a pop. Then another. What they thought, fleetingly, might have been fireworks were actually gunshots. The man was shooting at two members of the gurdwara. He fired at one of them seven or eight times.
“He didn’t want him to live,” Abhay recalled.
The children ran inside, crying out warnings. At first, there was confusion. But as gunfire echoed inside the gurdwara, the adults understood that this was not child’s play. They herded Amanat and Abhay into a small pantry in the gurdwara’s kitchen, and, together, they all huddled in terror.
In the midst of the tragedy, the two children have emerged as unlikely heroes. Members of the gurdwara said the warning came in time to save the lives of others as the intruder went on to kill a total of six people before being gunned down by a police officer outside.
“They are both, brother and sister, heroes. I call them heroes,” said Baljit Singh, whose wife, Jaspal, was in the kitchen and heeded the warning. He estimated that the children were able to warn more than a dozen people.
‘I’m glad I stayed back’
Speaking publicly for the first time, the children said they were proud that they were able to come to people’s help.
“I’m glad I stayed back because I could save those people,” Abhay said, as he sat with the rest of his family in their home in a suburb of Milwaukee.
Abhay said that in the pantry, he and his sister were packed in with more than a dozen people. They shut the door, which had no lock, and stayed silent, the quarters so tight that Abhay could not reach his hands toward the ceiling.
A tall cooler blocked the sightline from outside the kitchen into the pantry, and the shooter seemed not to know that people were hiding inside.
The children said that as they hid, they could hear bullets crashing into metal. Containers of food falling. The screams of victims. Amanat said she was scared she was going to die.
Another group was hiding in the gurdwara’s basement, but those in the pantry had no idea what was happening outside.
Amanat used someone’s cellphone to try to send her mother a text message, telling her to stay away from the gurdwara, to tell her not to come back.
Abhay began to smell something burning -- bread, part of the meal for his sister’s birthday lunch. Some of it was still on the stove -- flat bread, kidney beans and gravy, and potatoes -- and those huddled in the pantry started to worry that a bullet could strike a gas line, sparking an explosion.
One of them called the children’s mother, Kamwal Singh, 36, who was frantic and weeping outside. They asked her to try to get someone to shut off the gas. They also told her that her children were with them.
‘A terrible feeling’
Eventually, the sound of shooting stopped.
The group stayed quiet, the heat so intense that one of the women began fanning Abhay with a paper plate to keep him from fainting.
Once police entered the kitchen, a wave of relief washed over the terrified group. There were bodies scattered around the temple. Survivors were taken to a bowling alley across the street.
Once Amanat saw her mother, she began to cry.
On Tuesday, she was wearing a pink tank top and a pink hair band. She was holding an iPad in a pink case, a birthday gift she received the day after the shooting. Abhay had already helped her add songs, including her favorite, Katy Perry’s “Wide Awake.”
She kept snuggling into her mother’s arms.
“We were crying -- it was such a terrible feeling,” Kamwal Singh said, recalling how she and her husband panicked once they realized what was happening inside the gurdwara.
Kanwal said that like her children, she, too, is now proud.
“I didn’t know they would be so brave,” she said.
[Courtesy: The Washington Post]
August 8, 2012
Conversation about this article
1: Gurcharan Singh Kulim (Chugwell, London, United Kingdom), August 08, 2012, 9:18 AM.
Heroes! They were indeed heroes who played an important part in saving lives. We cannot forget S. Satwant Singh Kaleka who actually grappled with the murderer with a small knife and died in a hail of bullets. Last but not least, the officer who shot the killer and brought a stop to further killings that could have taken place had he not been shot down. The officer was himself shot 9 times and is the greater hero of the tragedy. May I take this opportunity to ask Sikhs in India to stop the burning of an American flag and the demonstrations against USA. Your sick actions are going to whip up a reaction against Sikhs. Currently I know several sites set up by Americans who sympathize with Sikhs and deplore what took place. These good people stand with us. The actions of Indians does not jive with what's happening here in the West, and does not fit into civilized behaviour, especially their silly demonstrations. It is not America that killed Sikhs, it is the actions of one deranged man, and this man does NOT make America.
2: Sukhjinder Singh Jassal (India), August 08, 2012, 9:53 AM.
jis ko rakhe saiya maar sake na koe
3: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), August 08, 2012, 4:28 PM.
The two involuntary, unintentional impromptu heroes have entered the history books as saviors for many. Amanat and Abhay (fearless) have done us proud. In this hour of grief do not sully this act of bravery into obscene political dross. Just remember "Guru ka Bagh" when unending jathaas walked silently into certain doom that eventually shook the mighty British empire. Let others speak as did C. F. Andrews, and his words caught the imagination of the entire nation. "He stooped down and touched (the ex-soldier's feet) and asked him to forgive the British for their evil-doing." Let's do what the Sardar, who was the headman of the village, did: in response, he embraced Andrews. (quote from T. Sher Singh's: "Eye-Witness To Sikh History".)
4: R. Singh (Canada), August 08, 2012, 7:21 PM.
Sikhs in India can join in helping the victims' families and the police officer (and his family) who was also shot, in fact hold a demonstration to thank the Oak Creek police force for their prompt response and proving their professionalism is exemplary. It was a dastardly act, not one anybody could have foreseen. We need a mature response from India, not the mindless sloganeering routinely instigated by the usual suspects.
5: Jinendra Singh (India), August 11, 2012, 12:25 PM.
Indeed, the child is the father of man!
6: V.E.G. (USA), December 03, 2012, 3:53 PM.
Don't forget the three other heroes: Satwant Singh Kaleka, Savan Nick "Sam" Lenda, and Officer Brian James Murphy.