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Oak Creek police chief remembers temple shooting on anniversary

CREATED Aug 5, 2013 - UPDATED: Aug 5, 2013

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OAK CREEK - A year after a gunman opened fire at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek, the memory is still fresh at the city's police department.

"That day went by so fast. It was midnight before we knew what was going on," said Oak Creek Police Chief John Edwards.

Edwards was like most of us that day, just going about his Sunday. He was actually near the temple.

"I was blocked by a sheriff's squad. I realized why is a sheriff's squad blocking a street in my city?  It's just not normal."

So Edwards called the police station.  Dispatchers were overwhelmed. But they told the chief what they could. Then the dispatcher transferred his call.

Before he did anything else that day, Chief Edwards talked to an officer who was in the ambulance with Lieutenant Brian Murphy. Murphy had been shot 17 times. The officer told the chief what he knew.

Then Chief Edwards went to work.

"We were getting reports of fourth and fifth shooters with 20 to 40 people dead," he said.

That turned out to be false. Six people, plus the shooter, were dead. Four others were shot.

It was chaotic, but Chief Edwards had help. He had a lot of help.

"We asked for a level seven. So we asked for 35 officers. We ended up with 440 personnel on scene," Edwards said.

And that's just what made the official count. 

As the hours ticked on we learned there was only one shooter. The incident was over. Now we all had to deal with it.

"I had an officer come to me and ask me after this, 'when does it stop?' I said it never stops."

Edwards knew what he was talking about, he was shot by a suspect in 1989.

"Marshals were chasing him and I ran into him at our truck stop," he remembered. "My badge is up on the wall there with a bullet hole through it."

So Edwards knew what he was dealing with when he got to the hospital that night to visit his wounded colleague.

"Seeing all the officers in there, some of them still covered in his blood from carrying him to the car," he said, it was clear the whole department needed help.

In the year since the tragedy, the department has had professional help. It's also seen an outpouring of support.

One of the best days for the department, the day Lt. Murphy got out of the hospital. They did something called a walkout. Officers and others lined the doors as Murphy left the hospital.  Everyone clapped as he came out.

"He wouldn't be allowed to be taken out on a wheelchair.  He made them stop the wheelchair, he said I'm not going on a wheelchair," Edwards said.

Lt. Murphy walked out, fist-bumping everyone. The day was therapeutic for officers who could see that, despite being shot 17 times, Murphy was able to walk out of the hospital.  He was okay.