Tight-knit Sikh community in shock over FedEx shooting

National News

A women wears a shirt calling for the end of gun violence during a vigil at the Olivet Missionary Baptist Church for the victims of the shooting at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis, Saturday, April 17, 2021. A gunman killed eight people and wounded several others before taking his own life in a late-night attack at a FedEx facility near the Indianapolis airport, police said. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

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 family is among many in mourning after a mass shooting Thursday night claimed the lives of Sekhon and seven other FedEx employees — four of them Sikhs — leaving the community stunned, her brother-in-law, Kuldip Sekhon, said Saturday.

He said his sister-in-law began working at the FedEx facility in November 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. Several other people were wounded, including five who were taken to the hospital. 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 FedEx employee and last worked for the company in 2020. He said he did not know why Hole left the job.

Hole’s family said in a statement Saturday that they are “so sorry for the pain and hurt” his actions have brought.

“We are devastated at the loss of life caused as a result of Brandon’s actions; 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,” they said in the statement.

About 90% of the workers at the FedEx warehouse near the Indianapolis International Airport are members of the local Sikh community, police 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 both began working at the FedEx facility 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.

The attack was another blow to the Asian American community a month after authorities said six people of Asian descent were killed by a gunman 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.

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, killing seven. 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 agents found no evidence of a crime and that they did not identify Hole as espousing a racially motivated ideology.

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.

Matthew Alexander, of Avon, just west of Indianapolis, was a former Butler University student and a 2007 graduate of Avon High School. Relatives and several of his former teammates on Avon’s baseball team attended a game Saturday in his memory. They carried his former uniform, No. 16, onto the field, where they hugged and cried.

Albert Ashcraft, a former FedEx driver who worked with Alexander for about five years, said Alexander dispatched drivers to locations for deliveries, prepared their paperwork and was well-liked because he looked out for the drivers, even making sure they got treats.

“People would bring doughnuts in and he was always sticking doughnuts back for his drivers,” he told The Indianapolis Star.

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 in Washington and Pat Eaton-Robb in Connecticut 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.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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