Upon hearing the news of the , Sussex’s Paviter Singh Sangha jumped on his motorcycle and took off.
“I found out Sunday morning from my little sister,” Sangha said. “My heart sank... I just flew over to the Brookfield temple. We all thought there was going to be a second attack.”
Sangha, 27, on Main Street in May of 2011 after first moving to the Sussex area in 1993, is a Sikh and knows a few of those who died in Oak Creek on Sunday. His mother taught Sunday school to the sons of a woman who was killed. His father was a close friend of the Temple president, who died trying to take down the shooter.
But as hard as these last few days have been, disturbingly, Sangha said he knew this day would come.
“On the way to the Brookfield temple I had my gun with me, and I’ve been mentally preparing for this,” he said. “I’ve been carrying since the concealed carry law passed just for my family and my protection. I knew one day there would be something like this because I’ve been a target of hate crimes many times before.”
Between bar fights at Summerfest and shouts while walking down the street, Sangha said he’ll give someone a week to write down every slur they can think of, and then he’ll double it.
“I’ve been called Osama bin Laden more times than I’d like to admit,” Sangha said.
"You look at the people around us – who’s supporting us? Americans. That man, I can’t speak of him, but he’s not American. Those aren’t American ideals.”
However, according to Sangha, the same hatred doesn’t extend into Sussex or Lake Country. After living in Germantown and working in Sussex for almost 20 years, he says he hasn’t been harassed in the village. Not once.
“Since I’ve owned the store, no single person has said anything to me regarding my faith,” Sangha said. “Sussex has been beautiful. I’d like to thank the people of Sussex. A ton of my customers came in on Sunday asking if I was OK, asking about my dad, asking about me. I’ve gotten cards and hugs and handshakes. They’re not here to shop. They’re here to see me.”
It’s Sussex and the community’s faith in him that keeps Sangha’s faith in America burning bright. On Sunday, he many police officers arrived at the Brookfield Sikh temple to provide protection. On Monday, he noticed people from every walk of life attending .
When asked if the Oak Creek gunman affected his perspective on the United States, Sangha said simply: “Not at all.”
“I once asked my father why he came from India to America, and he said he wanted to have a better life and education for his children,” Sangha began. “We love America, and every day we pray for America.
"You look at the people around us – who’s supporting us? Americans. That man, I can’t speak of him, but he’s not American," he said of the gunman, Wade Michael Page. "Those aren’t American ideals.”
Sangha said, if anything has come of this tragedy, now more people than ever are aware of the Sikh community. But if anyone has questions or is confused, his doors are open.
“Anyone who has any questions in Sussex – they don’t have to be a customer or anything like that – my doors are open to anyone with questions,” Sangha said.
Anyone interested in helping the community after the Oak Creek tragedy can visit WeAreSikhs.com, a website taking donations to help lower-income families who lost loved ones, those injured in the shooting and to help repair the temple.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the website already collected more than $170,000.
Editor's Note: The article was motified on Thursday at 9:00 a.m. to better reflect how long Sangha has been in the Sussex community.