A neo-Nazi skinhead who called himself "Jack Boot" and emblazoned his body with white supremacist symbols: That is the portrait that has emerged of Wade Michael Page, the suspected gunman in a shooting rampage at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin.
The 40-year-old former Army sergeant entered a gurdwara in the Milwaukee suburb of Oak Creek, Wis., Sunday armed with a 9mm semiautomatic handgun, killed five men and one woman and wounded another four people, including a police officer he shot multiple times, authorities said.
Page’s rampage ended after police fatally shot him following a shootout — but it left behind the harrowing question of why.
The FBI said that it was investigating the shooting as a possible act of domestic terrorism and was probing Page's possible ties to white supremacist groups. According to organizations that track hate groups, Page had such ties for more than a decade, NBC News reported.
Heidi Beirich, director of the intelligence project for the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, said her unit had been following Page since 2000, when he tried to make purchases from the National Alliance, which the SPLC described as having once been “America’s most important hate group.”
“We were not looking at this guy as anything special until today,” Beirich’s colleague Mark Potok of the SPLC told The New York Times. “He was one of thousands. We were just keeping an eye on him.”
Anti-Defamation League investigative research director Mark Pitcavage told NBC News that Page was a member of the Hammerskins, "one of the oldest and largest hardcore racist skinhead groups."
Pitcavage said that Page's white power band End Apathy had recently performed at a number of Hammerskin-led white supremacist shows and that Page often used the pseudonym "Jack Boot," apparently referring to the tall military boots worn by Nazi officers.
Even Page’s many tattoos and his bands’ song lyrics betrayed his white supremacist beliefs.
One tattoo, a cog wheel containing the number “838,” was a Hammerskins tattoo, while another, a Celtic cross on his bicep containing the number “14,” was a white supremacist symbol, Pitcavage told NBC News.
Page said in an interview posted on a record label’s website, since removed, that he played with the bands Blue Eyed Devils and Definite Hate.
The former band’s song “White Victory” includes the line “Sieg heil.” A song by the latter describes a “race war.”
Those long-entrenched neo-Nazi beliefs were news to some who knew Page, or thought they did. One neighbor told NBC News that he believed Page had just broken up with his girlfriend but that he had never heard him make any racist remarks.
His stepmother Laura Page, who has been divorced from his father for more than a decade, told The New York Times that Page, whom she had known since he was 10 years old, was “a precious little boy.”
“I can’t imagine, I can’t imagine what made him do this,” she said.
Like Page’s stepmother, investigators were still searching for a motive Tuesday as the attack’s survivors and the relatives of victims struggled to understand the murders.
Some survivors speculated that Page, who also had a 9/11 tattoo according to his neighbor, may ignorantly have confused them with Muslims and intended his attack as an anti-Islam one. Sikhs in the U.S. have reported an upswing in violence against them after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks — violence they say may have been based on visual associations between images of Osama bin Laden and the traditional Sikh turban and beard.
Page had bought the 9mm semiautomatic handgun he used in the rampage legally within the 10 days before the shooting, authorities said Monday.
And while the FBI said it is investigating the matter as an act of domestic terrorism, its investigators had had no past contact with Page.
“Nobody knew this guy was a threat,” FBI Special Agent in Charge Teresa Carlson said Monday at a press briefing.
Page’s military and criminal histories left few clues, too.
His general, not honorable, discharge from the Army in 1998, which came after he had risen to the rank of sergeant and after six years in the Army, and his accompanying reduction in rank were for acts of misconduct concerning his drinking, officials told NBC News.
Page’s criminal history, too, was brief and appeared limited to alcohol-related offenses — a 1994 guilty plea to a misdemeanor criminal mischief charge over an incident in which he had drunkenly kicked holes in the walls of an El Paso, Texas, bar and five years later a guilty plea to a DUI charge.
As those details of Page’s past trickled out, the Milwaukee community, and Sikh communities worldwide, grappled with the killings’ aftermath and mourned those killed — Sita Singh, Ranjit Singh, Prakash Singh, Paramjit Kaur, Suveg Singh and Satwant Singh Kaleka, the gurdwara’s president. (Most male Sikhs have Singh as their surname; most female Sikhs have Kaur.)
Kaleka’s son told NBC 5 Chicago that the FBI had told him his father had likely died trying to save other worshipers by stabbing in vain at the gunman in the hopes of slowing down his rampage.
“We lost a great man, who's my uncle. And most of my family's in denial. They can't believe it,” Kaleka’s niece Simran Kaleka told NBC 5 Chicago.