Indianapolis is mourning eight people killed at a FedEx sorting facility by a gunman who police said was a 19-year-old former employee who had a shotgun seized by authorities last year. Authorities said they are continuing to investigate what motivated the killer, who appeared to have fired his rifle at “random” in an attack that lasted no more than a couple of minutes late Thursday before turning the gun on himself.
Vigils are happening across the city Saturday for the eight victims, who were between the ages of 19 and 74. Authorities identified the victims late Friday as 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. A family member said Sekhon was 49.
Meanwhile, a shooting at a mall in Omaha on Saturday set off panic and fear of yet another mass shooting. One victim was transported to the hospital with critical injuries and suspects fled the scene, police said.
Here are some significant developments
Police identified the gunman as Brandon Hole, who worked at FedEx until 2020 and was known by authorities long before the shooting. Last spring, after his mother reported her fears that he would attempt “suicide by cop,” he was questioned by authorities, and the police temporarily detained him for mental health reasons, FBI Indianapolis Special Agent in Charge Paul Keenan said.
At least four of those killed were members of the Sikh community in Indianapolis, according to the Sikh Coalition, a national advocacy group.
President Biden said that gun violence “stains our character and pierces the very soul of our nation” as he — yet again — ordered flags at the White House and other federal properties be lowered to half-staff.
The mass killing in Indianapolis was the latest in a grim litany that has left a trail of bloodstained sorrow across the country this spring. In the past five weeks, there have been six public mass shootings in the United States, including massacres at three Atlanta spas and a supermarket in Boulder, Colo. Together, the shootings have claimed 40 lives.
As vigils got underway in the city, family members, friends and co-workers are beginning to open up about the eight victims.
Amarjit Sekhon died where she worked tirelessly to provide for her family. She had been working at the FedEx facility since last November as the sole source of income for her sons, relatives said. She toiled long hours in part because her husband has been paralyzed from a disability from birth, said Kuldip Sekhon, her husband’s brother.
“She was a hard worker and always wanted to work and was always working overtime and asking for overtime shifts,” the brother-in-law told The Washington Post. “She liked to have a good house, have good cars.”
She moved to the United States in 2005, initially settling in Ohio and working for a bakery before relocating to Indianapolis several years ago to be closer to family, her brother-in-law said.
In Indiana, hers was one of several Sikh immigrant families living together in a large house. She worked at FedEx with Jasvinder Kaur, the mother of Kuldip Sekhon’s daughter-in-law, who also died in the shooting. Amarjit Sekhon leaves behind a 16-year-old son and a 22-year-old son.
Kuldip Sekhon said the family would rally to make sure the sons are financially supported. Another relative set up a GoFundMe page to cover funeral expenses and medical expenses for “affected families.”
Jasvinder Kaur longed to reunite with her son in India. Now her family is instead hoping to get her son a visa to the United States so that he can say goodbye to his mother.
Kaur was among four Sikh people killed in the shooting leaving a close-knit community behind.
Kuldip Sekhon, who is also the father-in-law of Kaur’s daughter, said Kaur was a single mother of two after her husband died when the children were young. “She was very hard-working, very nice,” he said.
Kaur emigrated to the United States about three years ago and lived with her daughter, who is around the age of 30, Sekhon said. The pandemic hampered their plans to bring her son, who is in his early 20s, to the United States last year.
Kaur returned to India last summer to see her son, but could not stay for more than six months due to immigration restrictions, Sekhon said.
“We were trying to get visa for him so they could both help each other,” Sekhon said.
The family hopes congressional representatives or others in federal government can help her son come to the United States now after losing his mother in a national tragedy.
For Jaswinder Singh, an Indian immigrant who was among the four members of the Sikh community slain Thursday, he never got to cash his first paycheck. Singh just started his FedEx job on April 4 and was trying to collect his paycheck when he was killed, according to a 27-year-old nephew who lived near him and asked for his name not to be published to protect his privacy.
Relatives said Singh left the Punjab state of India, where the Sikh community is concentrated, about eight years ago to reunite with relatives living in the United States, according to the nephew. He first arrived in Tracy, Calif., located in the agricultural Central Valley region known for a large Sikh community, with deep farming roots. He later moved to Greenwood, Ind., where about 25 relatives, including a son, lived in the same majority-Punjabi subdivision.
His nephew said he decided to take the job at FedEx because he was bored at home and it was popular among other Punjabi immigrants.
“They knew a lot of people who worked there,” the nephew said. “They just carpooled together. It was a decent paying job, a lot of older Punjabis worked there.”
Harjap Singh Dhillon, a son-in-law, told the New York Times that Singh “was a simple man. He used to pray and meditate a lot, and he did community service.”
Samaria Blackwell, one of the youngest victims in the shooting, was an athlete and recent high school graduate who dreamed of becoming a police officer, friends and family members said.
She was the youngest of four siblings and a fierce competitor for the basketball and soccer teams for Indy Genesis, a group that organized home-schooled kids into competitive sports teams, the association said. She was remembered by teammates as someone who was “always smiling and cracking jokes.”
Matt Barnes, the chaplain for the Indiana Statehouse and father of two of her teammates, said that her teammates called Blackwell “Stitches,” because she was once injured playing basketball and needed to be stitched up.
“She had a mean game face and when she put a mouth guard in, I wouldn’t like to go next to her,” Barnes joked. “But when she stepped off the court, she just wanted to have fun. I know it seems cliche but she was 19 and had the world ahead of her.”
Her parents, Jeff and Tammi Blackwell, issued a statement giving thanks for the “outpouring of love and support” and that they were blessed to have such a “fun-loving, caring daughter as the baby of our family.”
“As an intelligent, straight A student, Samaria could have done anything she chose to put her mind to, and because she loved helping people, she dreamed of becoming a police officer,” the parents said. “Although that dream has been cut short, we believe that right now she is rejoicing in heaven with her Savior.”
Biden says he is still prioritizing gun control, police reform legislation
President Biden said he is still urging Congress to pass gun control legislation on April 16 following a mass shooting at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis. (The Washington Post)
The political response to the shooting has intensified in the immediate aftermath of the attack in Indianapolis.
As Biden called gun violence an “epidemic,” Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett (D) pushed for state leaders this week to “stop this cycle of violence that’s driven by readily accessible guns.” “I certainly intend to lead in that regard,” he said Friday.
On Saturday, Indianapolis City-County Council member Ali Brown (D) continued to call for state lawmakers to pass gun-violence legislation that would ban assault weapons.
Police said the gunman used a rifle, but did not specify the kind of firearm.
Brown told WISH that while she was still in “shock and disbelief,” she had also come to the realization that state leaders needed to act quickly following another mass shooting in the city.
“We’re all shook to our core and we all feel the need to have something change,” she said. “This country has a problem, and it was exhibited here in Indianapolis on Thursday night and pretty much every other day in Indianapolis.”
The call for increased legislation after the attack at the FedEx facility was felt throughout the Indiana State Fairgrounds. At the Indy 1500 Gun and Knife Show, people standing in line for the event expressed shock and sadness over the latest shooting, but most maintained that any new gun-violence laws in the wake of the massacre would be unfair.
Indianapolis resident David McCullough, 48, told WRTV he believes there should be no limits on gun ownership.
“I think crazy people will do crazy things and responsible people will be responsible,” he told the station. “You can’t judge a whole population upon one man’s actions.”
But some at the gun show, located about 20 miles from the site of Thursday’s shooting, supported stricter background checks. Lionel Crittenden, a 31-year-old resident of the city, said to WRTV that he wouldn’t oppose more background checks, blaming “illegal gun owners” for the mass shootings.
“You shouldn’t be able to just come and get it right away,” Crittenden said.
While the city remembered the victims Saturday, Staci Drake thought about her friends, some of whom were killed and injured on Thursday night. The hours since the mass shooting have been difficult for Drake, a security employee at the FedEx facility who was not there at the time of the attack. The 38-year-old reflected on the quality of the relationships built in and out of work, saying the employees on Maribel Road had built their own special “FedEx community.”
“Everybody here were good people,” Drake said in a text message. “They were just earning an honest living.”