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It Takes 'Love' to Rush a Gunman: Son of Sikh Temple President Killed During Shooting Draws Parallel to NZ Mosque Hero

Just as his father did in 2012 at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, an unarmed hero reportedly rushed the Christchurch, New Zealand, mosque shooter. Both acts of bravery, Pardeep Singh Kaleka believes, were motivated by a love for others rather than hate for the gunman.

Around 10:30 in the morning on August 5, 2012, Pardeep was walking to the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, in Oak Creek, with his two young children who were set to attend Sunday school. As they made their way to the temple where Pardeep's father, Satwant Singh Kaleka, was president, Wade Michael Page, a white supremacist, opened fire on worshippers. Had Pardeep’s daughter not forgotten a notebook at home, they would have all been inside.

“The entire day was just really chaotic,” Pardeep told Newsweek. “This was a relatively new phenomenon that happened in places of worship. Unfortunately, with Charleston, Tree of Life and now the shooting in New Zealand, it’s becoming much more common that we see attacks on places of worship, but at that time it was rare, so it was a lot of chaos and confusion.”

He knew right away that his father had been shot, but it wasn’t until the shooting was over that he learned that his father spent the last moments of his life trying to save others. Armed with only a butter knife, Satwant charged the gunman and tried to wrestle him to the ground, ultimately sacrificing his own life after being shot five times.

Satwant Singh Kaleka mosque shooting sikh temple shooting pardeep singh kaleka Satwant Singh Kaleka was killed after he rushed toward a gunman in an attempt to end the attack on the Sikh temple where he was president. Pardeep Singh Kaleka

Similarly, on Friday, an unarmed worshipper reportedly rushed a gunman who killed at least 49 people at the Masjid Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand. Pardeep's father and the hero in Christchurch had different religious faiths and lived more than 8,000 miles apart, but Pardeep said there are commonalities in those who are able to stare down the barrel of a gun and be awakened to act instead of being paralyzed with fear.

One is courage. Whether you’re naturally inclined to run toward danger as others run away, it requires courage to try to stop a gunman with whatever you have on you. But, Pardeep said, it also requires a person to know what they’re fighting for, rather than fighting against and love.

“I think that person who tried to confront the gunman with whatever they had and [possibly] lost their life did it out of love much more than hatred of the gunman,” he explained. “I don’t think they were tunnel vision to the point they were like, ‘You know what? I’m gonna attack this gunman, I’m gonna attack hate.’ I think they did it for love and a love of their mothers, their sisters, their children, their brothers, their family and whoever we see as our family—we do it to protect them.”

After the attack, officials in New Zealand advised the Muslim community to not attend religious services and stay inside their homes, as they were still collecting information and didn’t know if other attacks had been planned. Pardeep agreed that during such moments of terror those in charge have to caution on the side of safety—but after that, the community has to be brave.

“We have to be courageous and we have to reclaim places of prayer and worship,” Pardeep said. “I think after today and continually going forward, we and those in New Zealand are going to have to be courageous and call on allies and build coalitions and a social fabric that is much more preventative-based.”

christchurch mosque shooting gunman man charged Flowers and candles are placed on the front steps of the Wellington Masjid mosque in New Zealand after a shooting incident at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. MARTY MELVILLE/AFP/Getty Images

The question “How can we stop this from happening?” has long plagued society, with no one coming up with a concrete solution. One suggestion was to have armed security at places of worship, which was a strategy the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin implemented in the wake of its own tragedy.

As time wore on, Pardeep said the temple generally felt armed security guards were overkill and discussed implementing secured doors and evacuation plans. While it’s a decision each place of worship must make for itself, he said a preventative strategy should start with improving relationships law enforcement has with the religious communities in the areas they serve. Pardeep, who served as a police officer himself, clarified that improving relationships doesn’t equate to officers having a bad relationship; it just needs to be more personal.

“After the Sikh temple shooting, they didn’t really know the layout of the temple itself, and so they had to send a robot in there to do the initial sweep to find out where things were,” Pardeep said. “But if you know the layout of the building that you’re about to go into, it becomes a little bit more familiar and much safer than if you go in there and you don’t know anything about it. So police officers need to go into places of worship preventively rather than reactively.”

sikh temple shooting mosque shooting christchurch new zealand Pictures of the shooting victims at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, in Oak Creek, were placed in front of the temple during a service held to mark the one-year anniversary of the rampage that killed six members, on August 5, 2013. Scott Olson/Getty Images

With every mass shooting that occurs, whether it be in the Muslim, Jewish, African American or Christian community, Pardeep puts himself in the moment, imagining families going to a place of prayer, children running and screaming for their lives and people begging for the shooting to stop.

“To attack a place of prayer is to attack the notion that there’s something higher than ourselves and to say, ‘Well, where is God now?’ It really begs to ask that question,” he said.

However, in the wake of the Sikh temple shooting, his faith was, and continues to be, strengthened. He reasoned that this tragedy would test the faith of those in New Zealand as well. Just as he stepped up to be a leader of his community after six lives were lost, someone will have to be that person for the Muslim community, and the responsibility won’t be an easy one to bear.

“What came to their place of worship was absolute hate, and now they have the call of answering absolute hate and they have to be absolute love,” said Pardeep. “And that’s hard to do, because you’re gritting your teeth and you know that your faith calls on you to be absolute love, and their faith is going to be put to the test.”

While the next few days for the victims of the mosque shooting may be a never-ending cycle of reality masking itself as a bad dream, Pardeep encouraged anyone affected to be good and kind to themselves and, ultimately, to forgive.  

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