"Dear God, you have given me this body and this soul. This body is doing whatever you want me to do. You take this soul, this is your soul". As preachers read from the Sri Guru Granth Sahib, a translator helped the mourners understand the deep meaning of the Sikh philosophy. In an atmosphere that saw tears and prayers, and palpable compassion, hundreds paid their final respects on Friday to the six worshippers gunned down by a white supremacist at a gurdwara here a week ago.
A day after members were allowed back into the gurdwara, which was being cleaned, the country's top lawyer, US attorney general Eric Holder, and Wisconsin governor Scott Walker joined in the prayers at a hall in the Oak Creek High School.
A series of priests started reading the Granth Sahib from cover to cover at the gurdwara, in a rite honouring the dead called the 'Akhand Path'. It takes 48 hours. "We want to pay homage to the spirits who are still in there," said Harpreet Singh, a nephew of one of the victims.
At the school gymnasium, mourners greeted victims' family members with hugs standing by the six caskets as images of the victims were projected on a large screen. Several dozen police officers stood by, watching the service.
Federal investigators might never know for certain why 40-year-old Wade Michael Page chose to attack strangers. The army veteran opened fire with a 9 mm pistol, killing five men and one woman and injuring two other men. Quoting the civil rights activist Rev Martin Luther King Jr in his speech, Walker said that he, too, saw "love driving out hate". "And I experienced love driving out hate when I visited the families of the victims and heard wonderful stories about the compassion of the victims," the governor said.
He also reflected on the meaning of America in the phrase E Pluribus Unum, which means, out of many, one. "As Americans, we are one, and when you attack one of us, you attack all of us," Walker said. "This week, our friends and neighbors in the Sikh community have shown us the best way to respond -- with love," Walker said.
Prabhjot Singh, co-founder and trustee of the Sikh Coalition said that the visitation represents a time of healing and paying respects for those killed. "The religious ceremonies will be done privately over the next weeks," Singh was quoted by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel as saying. "Not all of the victim families are here," he said. "Some are flying in from India." An American flag was unfurled in the front of the gym, where the memorial was taking place, while a drummer kept up a soft, gentle beat. Attorney general Holder said in his speech: "We are united today not only by a shared sense of loss but by the common belief in the healing power of faith."