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The Braveheart of Wisconsin:
Lt Brian Murphy

An Interview by KHUSHWANT SINGH [Chandigarh]




This is one of the most overwhelming interviews that I have ever conducted.

Overwhelming, because how does one describe the valour and resilience of someone who takes fifteen 9 mm bullet shots in the line of duty, saves scores of lives and, damn it - is still alive!

Meet 51-year old, Lt. Brian Murphy, the police officer from the Oak Creek, Wisconsin, USA, who was the first one to reach the scene at the local gurdwara where a white-supremacist lunatic had gone on a shooting spree killing six worshippers … six months ago.

Back from the hospital, Lt. Murphy graciously agreed to Skype in spite of being able to speak only in whispers, since one of the bullets had lodged itself in his larynx.

Here are some excerpts from the interview.

Q   Were you familiar with the Sikh-American community before this encounter?

A    Yes, indeed. I had been stationed as part of the Marine Embassy at Afghanistan and would fly into Delhi very frequently. I cannot say that I was very familiar with the Sikhs, but I knew about them.

Q   Your bio, briefly?

A   Born in Brooklyn, New York, I was one of four children (2 brothers, 2 sisters). Raised as a Catholic, I come from a very middle class family. My father was a sanitation officer and my mother worked in a bank. My whole family is in the police. The only reason my father couldn't join was because in those days they didn’t enrol you if you wore glasses. I am married and have a 23 year old daughter, a  four-year old step-son and a 6-year old step-daughter. Before joining the police I served in the Marines for 5 years, then the UN before getting selected in the Oak Street Police Department in 1990.

Q  The scene from getting a call, to the encounter itself: What was going on in your mind when you were racing to the site?

A   It was great weather, things were going smoothly and I was texting my wife to go shopping to get the school supplies for the kids, once I was home.

And then the call. Of possible shots fired at the gurdwara. In a snap of a finger, I was zipping from zero kilometres per hour to two hundred. I knew I was the closest and would be the first one on the scene. My foremost thought was to remain as calm as possible. And since I had visited the gurdwara earlier for routine security updates, what ran in my mind was - how I would place myself once there, give myself cover or where would the people be and how many? Where would the gunman be? And on reaching, there was this darned malfunction with the switch that releases the semi-automatic AR 15 which is fitted in all police cars.

Q   Describe the gunfight?

A   When I reached the spot, I saw two men lying down. With the hope that I might be able to save them, I rushed towards them. But within ten feet of them, one lying over the other, their eyes popping out, I figured out that they may have deceased. Then I felt a movement. A man, a non-Sikh. He was a white male, wearing a white shirt, black trousers and with a black gun in his hand. A man who had no emotion, fear, anger or hate. I was convinced that he was the guy.

He was heading for his truck in the parking lot. I already had my gun out and yelled at him. I think we shot at the same time. I missed, and he hit me. The first shot I got was in the chin which ripped my Larynx. It felt like a hard punch. I swiftly got behind my car and ducked. He outmanoeuvred me and came from the rear. He shot again, this time ripping off my left thumb and probably knocking the gun out of my hand. That’s going to leave a mark, I thought. And dammit, my wife is going to be upset with me because two weeks later we were scheduled to fly to Florida for our honeymoon. I flipped over and started crawling but by this time he had probably shot me six times.

There was a lull, as he reloaded his gun and shot at me again. In my arm, in my legs and then in the back of my skull.  It was a cosy feeling when I was sinking, but I was determined not to fade away like this. I think this is what kept me alive.

Q   Your experiences with the Sikh community post the event and your recovery?

A   (Breaks down). There has never been and will never be a group of people who have been nicer in every possible way. You can’t imagine how supportive the community has been throughout this ordeal. I don’t cry, I didn’t cry when the killer shot me, I never cried when my sister died of cancer. But I have to tell you, the outpouring of the Sikh community has been nothing short of a miracle.

Q   Your suggestions on how the Sikh community can fight these prejudices, be at the social level and with the law enforcers?

A   The kind of activism that happened in Oak Creek post the tragedy should have happened before the tragedy. Every community has to be pro-active. Hate crime is not about anything but being ignorant. One of the tenets of the Sikh religion is ‘Serve and Protect’. This is also written on every police car of the United States. But if you ask any cop which religion’s motto is this -- not many would know.  This just shows there is not as much knowledge sharing as it should be. Not that I am convinced that any activism would have stopped the Oak Creek killer, but then it will stop somebody.

Q   Looking back at the incident … Your thoughts? How has it changed your life?

A   In life, I would generally be worrying about things much smaller than this. Once you are hit 15 times and you still have two bullets riddled in your body, you come to realise that those things mean nothing. (Laughs). And yes, I miss being a cop.

Q   Any thought of visiting the Golden Temple in Amritsar, Punjab?

A   I am actually working with my Chief on a program to train with law enforcement members in India. If that opportunity comes my way, the only way I can show my thanks to the Sikh community is by paying obeisance at the Golden Temple.

Q   Your comments on being voted the ‘Chic Sikh of the Year‘?

A   It has been humbling. It sounds silly, but sometimes there aren't enough words which can bring forth how much this affection means for my wife and me. And sorry for edging you out … you were also one of the nominees.

Both of us laugh and I invite Brian to be my guest whenever his Punjab plan materialises.


[Courtesy: Hindustan Times. Edited for]

February 10, 2013

Conversation about this article

1: Harinder (Uttar Pradesh, India), February 10, 2013, 12:19 PM.

May God bless you, Lt Brian Murphy, and all the people who lost lives in those painful and difficult moments. You are certainly worth emulating, especially for the way you rose to the call of duty and went beyond it.

2: Pritam Singh Grewal (Canada), February 10, 2013, 5:25 PM.

Examplary duty performed, Lt Murphy! Sikh-like conduct!

3: Gurmeet Kaur (Atlanta, Georgia, USA), February 11, 2013, 8:46 AM.

Didn't realize that the braveheart of Wisconsin is also so very intelligent and thoughtful. "The kind of activism that happened in Oak Creek post the tragedy should have happened before the tragedy ..." Thanks for an amazing interview, Khushwant. And again, thank you, Lt. Murphy. Hope you will be able to make the time to visit various Sikh communities and inspire them of this activism - and also continue to educate the police forces and other communities about us.

4: Amarjit Singh Duggal (Atlanta, Georgia, USA), February 12, 2013, 11:18 AM.

We all thank you, Lt. Murphy. This is indeed opportune for you to visit, know and inspire citizens around the nation. Especially Sikh-Americans. Great opportunity to encourage recruitment in several agencies! I was touched to see and meet you personally at the Oak Creek gurdwara in September, when you paid the very first visit after your release from the hospital.

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Lt Brian Murphy"

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