OAK CREEK, Wis. (AP) — Gurvinder Singh approached his father's open coffin with one thought: "Please, god, it's not my dad."
As he stepped closer, he realized the man was indeed the father he knew only from photographs. The 14-year-old stood numbly, not crying until officials wheeled the coffin toward a hearse. Then Gurvinder collapsed in tears, inconsolable, telling his mother he wanted to die in the same flames that would cremate his father.
Ranjit Singh left his family behind in India in 1997, to work as a priest at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin. He always planned to visit Gurvinder, his only son, whom he last saw as a 7-month-old. But last August, two months before the father was to go home for the first time in nearly 14 years, Singh and five others were fatally shot by a white supremacist at the temple. The gunman's motive still eludes police.
With the anniversary of that day approaching, Gurvinder recently sat in the same temple, down the hallway from where his father was killed, and recounted the few memories he has of the man he knew only from daily but brief phone calls.
"I've never seen my dad. I just saw him dead," Gurvinder said softly, shaking his head. "Whenever I look at someone's dad holding him I can't see that. It's hard to see."
Gurvinder, now 15, is quiet and soft-spoken. But he's quick to smile at people he's meeting for the first time. He's also eager to help out at the Oak Creek temple, carrying in boxes of groceries and keeping common areas clean.
He spends nearly every day at the temple. Wherever he goes he's reminded of the father he never met, from memorial portraits of all six victims that now adorn the lobby, to the bedroom his father called home. He also has a tattoo on the back of his left hand — the same tattoo his father had — of Punjabi characters that say, "One god."