“He wasn’t from Cudahy.” That was the one unanimous verdict in this close-knit, heavily Polish industrial town on the edge of Milwaukee on Sunday night, as police searched the residence of the apparent gunman in the shootings at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin earlier in the day that left seven people dead, including the shooter and temple president Satwant Kaleka. As the FBI, assisted by local police, spent hours searching a house on the north side of 3700 E. Holmes Avenue, the assembled gawkers were watching what was described by some as the biggest excitement to happen in years in the town. Among the gawkers were neighbors and acquaintances of the alleged gunman—who provided new information about him.
The alleged shooter, whom they could only identify as “Rob,” was relatively new to the neighborhood, according to 16-year-old Catarina Johnson, who lives a block away. She was confident that he didn’t come from Wisconsin, and thought he may have been from North Carolina.
This contrasts with a statement that the apparent gunman’s landlord, Kurt Weins, gave to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he thought the man had moved up from Chicago. Johnson’s mother, Jenny Czarnacki, said that until recently, he had shared an apartment with his girlfriend living on the north side of E. Holmes Avenue. Then, in the past few weeks, he broke up with the girlfriend and moved to a ground-floor apartment, also owned by Weins, directly across the street.
Nick Reina and Amber Young, whose grandmother lived next to the shooter, said they often saw him walking his black Labrador, Shadow, up and down the block. They remember him as bald and big, with many colorful tattoos. The tattoo that stood out was one about 9/11, which incorporated what Young described as “an explanation beneath.” She said she couldn’t really elaborate on that description.
Then again, big bald guys with tattoos don’t exactly stand out in Cudahy. Carlos, who works at a supermarket in the neighborhood, found the description of the shooter to be not very helpful. He said he sees plenty of people who look like that every day.
By 11 p.m. Sunday, life was starting to return to normal on Holmes Avenue. The police, who at one point had cordoned off several blocks, now restricted access only to the block where the apparent shooter had lived.
Residents who lived a block down the street, like Melanie Batz, were finally able to leave their homes after they spent hours stuck indoors with police refusing to let them out. Batz said she considered herself lucky compared with those who lived the 3700 block. There, residents were asked to leave at between 2 and 2:30 in the afternoon, and only given time to grab their pocketbooks and any necessary medications. She bemoaned the fate of a friend she said had been out when the police came, and was still unable to go back and get her dog. Batz was just happy to finally get out of her house and go out and see what was going on.
She wasn’t the only one.
Some residents said the shootings amounted to the biggest news in town since a big fire at the Patrick Cudahy meatpacking plant several years ago, and that a mass shooting goes far beyond the usual level of crime seen in the city. One teenaged girl named Becky Ktuznik said “there are a lot of fights.” That “commotions” often start where people “talk smack” and “then get hit.”
In this blue-collar town, the main drag, Packard Avenue, is lined with bars that still advertise beers like Blatz and Andeker. Residents were still out in the street cracking self-deprecating Polish jokes, unfazed by the sound of a police helicopter overhead. In a neighborhood located next to Milwaukee’s airport, people are accustomed to the constant roar of jet engines.