Sikh temple shooter's death ruled a suicide

August 28, 2012 - 8:44 PM

MILWAUKEE (AP) — The man who killed six Sikh worshippers at a Wisconsin temple before fatally shooting himself had a history of alcohol problems and underwent a noticeable personality change in the preceding year, according to an investigative report released Tuesday.

Wade Michael Page's sister told investigators he had a bloated appearance that made her wonder if he had been drinking recently, the report said. Kimberly Van Buskirk also said she noticed her brother become more intense over the past year, as if he had lost his wit and sense of humor. He took everything literally, she said.

Page, 40, opened fire Aug. 5 before a service was to start at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in suburban Milwaukee. He killed six people and wounded four others before he was shot in the abdomen during a firefight with police. He died after he shot himself in the head.

The Milwaukee County medical examiner's office, which released the investigative report, officially ruled his death a suicide.

Page's sister told authorities her brother didn't use drugs but had a history of alcohol problems. She did not immediately return a phone message left Tuesday by The Associated Press.

Online court records show Page had a history of drunken driving and a 1994 arrest in Texas after Page got drunk and kicked holes in the wall of a bar.

Toxicology reports, which would show whether he had drugs or alcohol in his system during the shooting spree, are still pending.

Oak Creek Police Chief John Edwards, whose officers responded to the shooting, said it would be an "excuse" to blame alcohol for what Page did. Many people drink alcohol, but they don't commit murder, he said.

"He has those thoughts, and they're there. The alcohol didn't cause that," Edwards said. "So whether he had that or not, I don't think that's the cause or the root of it."

The FBI and local authorities are still trying to piece together Page's motive in the attack. He had ties to white supremacy groups, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center civil rights group, and had recently broken up with his girlfriend.

In the days after the shooting, there was speculation that Page targeted Sikhs because he mistook them for Muslims because of their beards and turbans. Edwards said Tuesday he didn't think Page was targeting Sikhs or Muslims, but he declined to explain why, citing the ongoing investigation.

"There's been no specific group he was after or disliked more than the other," Edwards said. "It was a group that was different from him. ... It's a person with hate."

Edwards joined Oak Creek's mayor and fire chief at a lunch meeting where they discussed the emergency response to the shooting rampage. Edwards said there was initial confusion because of language difficulties — dispatchers thought the Sikhs were reporting "fighting" when they were actually saying "firing," in reference to gunfire.

One temple member asked why police took more than 12 hours to release the victims' identities, while their relatives agonized in uncertainty. Edwards said police had limited options.

He noted that police legally cannot touch dead bodies until the medical examiner has released them, so even though one FBI agent who swept through the building was a temple member who knew others by face, that agent could do nothing to identify those who died face-down.

One police officer was wounded while responding to the attack. Oak Creek Police Lt. Brian Murphy was ambushed and shot nine times at close range. He was released from the hospital last week.

Edwards said Murphy was hit in the throat and can speak only in a whisper. To protect his voice, he communicates by typing.

"He's probably going to have permanent injuries," Edwards said.

Three Sikh worshippers were wounded, and one remained hospitalized in critical condition Tuesday. Another was released after 10 days, and the third was treated for a minor injury on the day of the shooting.

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Dinesh Ramde can be reached at dramde(at)ap.org.