This week’s deadly mass shooting at a FedEx Ground facility in Indianapolis struck deeply into the area’s Sikh community after it suffered the loss of four members in the bloody onslaught.
“Our community has a long road of healing physically, mentally and spiritually to recover from this tragedy,” Maninder Singh Walia, a member of the Sikh community in Indianapolis, told CNN on Friday evening.
Eight people were killed and several others wounded Thursday night when a former FedEx employee opened fire at a facility near Indianapolis’ main airport before taking his own life. Investigators are still trying to determine the motive behind the shooting.
Friday evening, Indianapolis police released the names of the eight deceased victims. They are: Matthew R. Alexander, 32; Samaria Blackwell, 19; Amarjeet Johal, 66; Jasvinder Kaur, 50; Jaswinder Singh, 68; Amarjit Sekhon, 48; Karli Smith, 19; and John Weisert, 74.
Four of the eight killed were Sikh, Walia said.
The community has grown in Indiana in recent years, he said. When he moved to the area in 1999, about 50 Sikh families were there. Hundreds more families have arrived since then, with many Sikhs having come to Indianapolis for economic opportunity and good schools, Walia said.
The Sikh Coalition, a US-based advocacy organization, said that Indiana’s first gurdwara — or Sikh house of worship — was established in 1999. The state now has 10 gurdwaras and about 8,000 to 10,000 Sikh Americans, the coalition said.
Shooter’s motive unknown
“It’s a tragedy for all of us and we are all family,” Walia said. “We’re neighbors. We’ll do anything we can to help our city heal in the weeks and months ahead. It’s not like it’s going to go away.”
While the shooter’s motive isn’t yet known, “he targeted a facility known to be heavily populated by Sikh employees, and the attack is traumatic for our community as we continue to face senseless violence,” said Satjeet Kaur, executive director of the Sikh Coalition.
That sentiment was echoed in a letter to the Biden administration Saturday, in which the Sikh Coalition wrote, “It was no accident that the shooter targeted this particular FedEx facility where he had worked and knew was overwhelmingly staffed by Sikhs.”
“The people that were shot and killed were not random targets,” the coalition said. “As such, we implore the Administration to ensure that this shooting is not simply dismissed by the media or law enforcement and acknowledge what it is — a deliberate act intended to inflict the most harm against diverse Americans.”
The Sikh faith was founded in India’s Punjab region. India’s external affairs minister, S. Jaishankar, tweeted he was “deeply shocked” by Thursday’s shooting, and that India’s consulate in Chicago was in touch with Indianapolis’ mayor and local authorities.
“Will render all possible assistance,” Jaishankar also tweeted.
The attack marks at least the 45th mass shooting in the US since the Atlanta-area spa shootings March 16. CNN considers an incident to be a mass shooting if four or more people, excluding the gunman, are wounded or killed by gunfire.
It is the United States’ deadliest shooting since 10 people were killed March 22 at a grocery store in Boulder, Colorado.
Friends and relatives remember the victims
Sekhon and Kaur were relatively new to Indianapolis and were working the overnight shift at the FedEx facility when they were killed, said Rimpi Girn, an Indianapolis resident who knew them.
Sekhon, after immigrating to the US in 2004, moved to Indiana in 2019 from Ohio to be closer to family and relatives, said Girn, a close family friend.
Sekhon leaves a husband and two sons, ages 13 and 19, Girn said.
Kaur, who immigrated to the US in 2018, was the breadwinner for her family, according to Girn.
Sekhon drove Kaur to work because Kaur didn’t have a driver’s license, Girn said.
“They didn’t want to work night shift anymore,” and they were looking for day shifts with FedEx, Girn said.
Weisert would have celebrated his 50th wedding anniversary this fall, his widow, Mary Carol Weisert, told CNN affiliate WTHR. He’d worked at FedEx for about four and a half years, she said.
“He’s just a package handler. A retired professional engineer (previously), but after retirement he wanted to keep working. We had some things we needed to pay off, so he took this job,” she told WTHR.
Alexander was a graduate of Butler University, the school in Indianapolis said.
“The Butler community is mourning the loss of Matthew Alexander,” the university said on Twitter. “We want to extend our deepest sympathies to Matthew’s friends and families during this time of great sorrow.”
Samaria Blackwell was the “baby of our family,” her parents said in a statement, describing her as a “fun-loving, caring daughter” who was “tenacious in everything she did,” whether it was playing soccer or basketball or being a lifeguard.
“As an intelligent, straight A student, Samaria could have done anything she chose to put her mind to,” Jeff and Tammi Blackwell said, “and because she loved helping people, she dreamed of becoming a police officer.”
How the night unfolded
Thursday night’s shooting lasted only a few minutes, according to police.
It began when the gunman “got out of his car, and pretty quickly started some random shooting outside the facility,” Deputy Police Chief Craig McCartt said.
The gunman then “went inside and did not get very far into the facility at all,” while shooting others there, McCartt said.
FedEx employee Laveda Chester told CNN’s “OutFront with Erin Burnett” that she was in her car outside the building when she heard a pop.
“I thought it was a car crash, but then when I saw the gunman running towards the front door with his rifle, I immediately pulled off the parking lot and I called the police,” Chester said.
She waited until he went in so she could drive away without drawing the gunman’s attention. She called police from another parking lot and said she tried to warn other arriving workers that there was a shooting going on. Some stopped and some drove past her.
Investigators have heard the shooting lasted “just a couple minutes — that it did not last very long,” McCartt said.
“My understanding is, by the time that officers entered … the situation was over — that the suspect took his life very shortly before officers entered the facility,” McCartt told reporters.
At least 100 people were in the facility when the shooting began, he said. Many were on their dinner break or changing shifts.
Four people were found dead outside and four others, not counting the shooter, were dead inside, McCartt said.
Police say they are trying to understand the motive
McCartt on Friday afternoon identified the gunman as 19-year-old Brandon Hole, who was last employed by FedEx in 2020.
In March 2020, Hole’s mother told law enforcement that he might attempt “suicide by cop,” the FBI’s Indianapolis office said.
Special Agent in Charge Paul Keenan said Hole was placed on an immediate mental health temporary hold by the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department. He also said a shotgun was seized at Hole’s residence.
“Based on items observed in the suspect’s bedroom at that time, he was interviewed by the FBI in April 2020,” the statement said. “No Racially Motivated Violent Extremism (RMVE) ideology was identified during the course of the assessment and no criminal violation was found. The shotgun was not returned to the suspect.”
McCartt told reporters that Indianapolis police found Hole’s name in two past incident reports. The deputy chief didn’t have information about the first report. The details he described from a 2020 report align with the FBI statement.
When asked what brought the suspected gunman to the FedEx facility Thursday around 11 p.m., McCartt said: “I wish we could answer that.”
The police department announced Saturday that Hole purchased two guns used in the attack legally.
“During Thursday’s incident, the suspect, Brandon Hole, was witnessed using assault rifles in the assault,” the department said. “ATF conducted a trace on the two weapons. IMPD learned that Brandon Hole purchased the rifles legally in July and September of 2020.”
In a statement to CNN affiliate WRTV on Saturday, Hole’s family said it was “devastated at the loss of life caused as a result of Brandon’s actions,” adding, “through the love of his family, we tried to get him the help he needed.”
“Our sincerest and most heartfelt apologies go out to the victims of this senseless tragedy,” the statement said. “We are so sorry for the pain and hurt being felt by their families and the entire Indianapolis community.”
Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the name and age of shooting victim Jasvinder Kaur, 50, based on information provided by the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department.