Four Sikhs among victims of Indianapolis mass shooting
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Amarjit Sekhon, a 48-year-old mother of two sons, was the breadwinner of her family and one of many members of Indianapolis’ tight knit Sikh community employed at a FedEx warehouse on the city’s southwest side.
Her death Thursday night in a mass shooting that claimed the lives of seven other FedEx employees — four of them Sikhs — has left that community stunned and in mourning, her brother-in-law, Kuldip Sekhon, said Saturday.
He said his sister-in-law began working at the FedEx facility in November - after previously working at a bakery - and was a dedicated worker whose husband was disabled.
“She was a workaholic, she always was working, working,” he said. “She would never sit still ... the other day she had the (COVID-19) shot and she was really sick, but she still went to work.”
In addition to Sekhon, the Marion County Coroner’s office identified the dead late Friday as: Matthew R. Alexander, 32; Samaria Blackwell, 19; Amarjeet Johal, 66; Jasvinder Kaur, 50; Jaswinder Singh, 68; Karli Smith, 19; and John Weisert, 74.
Police said Brandon Scott Hole, 19, apparently began firing randomly at people in the parking lot of the FedEx facility, killing four, before entering the building, fatally shooting four more people and then turning the gun on himself. Authorities have not publicly speculated on a motive.
The killings marked the latest in a string of recent mass shootings across the country and the third mass shooting this year in Indianapolis.
Deputy Police Chief Craig McCartt said Hole was a former employee of FedEx and last worked for the company in 2020. He said he did not know why Hole left the job or if he had ties to the workers in the facility.
About 90% of the workers at the FedEx warehouse near the Indianapolis International Airport are members of the local Sikh community, Indianapolis Police Chief Randal Taylor said Friday.
Kuldip Sekhon said his family lost another relative in the shooting — Kaur, who was his son’s mother-in-law. He said both Kaur and Amarjit Sekhon began working at the FedEx facility at the same time last November.
Komal Chohan, who said Amarjeet Johal was her grandmother, said in a statement issued by the Sikh Coalition that her family members, including several who work at the FedEx warehouse, are “traumatized” by the killings.
“My nani, my family, and our families should not feel unsafe at work, at their place of worship, or anywhere. Enough is enough — our community has been through enough trauma,” she said in the statement.
There are between 8,000 and 10,000 Sikh Americans in Indiana, according to the coalition. Members of the religion, which began in India in the 15th century, began settling in Indiana more than 50 years ago and opened their first house of worship, known as a gurdwara, in 1999.
The attack was another blow to the Asian American community a month after six people of Asian descent were killed in a mass shooting in the Atlanta area and amid ongoing attacks against Asian Americans during the coronavirus pandemic.
The shooting comes the week Sikhs are celebrating Vaisakhi, a major holiday festival that among other things marks the date Sikhism was born as a collective faith.
Tejpaul Singh Bainiwal of Stockton, California - who participated in a martial arts tournament in Indiana, where the local gurdwara was host - said this year’s holiday celebrations would be intensely somber.
“How do you celebrate after something like this?” he said.
Satjeet Kaur, the Sikh Coalition’s executive director, said the entire community was traumatized by the “senseless” violence.
“While we don’t yet know the motive of the shooter, he targeted a facility known to be heavily populated by Sikh employees,” Kaur said.
The coalition says about 500,000 Sikhs live in the U.S. Many practicing Sikhs are visually distinguishable by their articles of faith, which include the unshorn hair and turban.
The shooting is the deadliest incident of violence collectively in the Sikh community in the U.S. since 2012, when a white supremacist burst into a Sikh temple in Wisconsin and shot 10 people, with seven dying. That gunman killed himself during a firefight with police.
Paul Keenan, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Indianapolis field office, said Friday that agents questioned Hole last year after his mother called police to say that her son might commit “suicide by cop.” He said the FBI was called after items were found in Hole’s bedroom but he did not elaborate on what they were. He said agents found no evidence of a crime and that they did not identify Hole as espousing a racially motivated ideology.
A police report obtained by The Associated Press shows that officers seized a pump-action shotgun from Hole’s home after responding to the mother’s call. Keenan said the gun was never returned.
Indianapolis police said Friday that Hole opened fire with a rifle.
Samaria Blackwell, of Indianapolis, was a soccer and basketball player who last year graduated from Indy Genesis, a Christian competitive sports organization for homeschooled students. Her parents said Saturday in a statement that she was an outgoing “people person” — the youngest of four children who will be missed “immensely” by them and her dog, Jasper.
“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. Although that dream has been cut short, we believe that right now she is rejoicing in heaven with her Savior,” they said.
Family friends have organized a fundraiser for the Blackwell family to assist with funeral expenses.
Several dozen people gathered at the Olivet Missionary Baptist Church on the city’s west side Saturday afternoon to mourn and to call for action.
“The system failed our state the other night,” said Cathy Weinmann, a volunteer with Moms Demand Action. “That young man should have never had access to a gun … we will not accept this, and we demand better than this for our community.”
Associated Press reporters Michael Balsamo and Eric Tucker in Washington, Pat Eaton-Robb in Connecticut and Gary Fields in Silver Spring, Maryland, contributed to this report. Casey Smith is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.