The 19-year-old gunman who killed eight workers and himself at an Indianapolis FedEx center was a former employee who was placed under psychiatric detention last year after his mother reported concerns he might commit “suicide by cop,” police and FBI said.
Four members of the Sikh religious community – three women and a man – were among the dead in Thursday night’s gun rampage, according to a local Sikh leader who said he had been briefed by the victims’ families.
Law enforcement officials said they had not immediately determined whether racial or ethnic hatred was behind the killings. But a Sikh civil rights advocacy group called for an investigation of any possible hate bias involved in the crime.
The incident – the latest in a spate of at least seven deadly mass shootings in the United States over the past month – unfolded at a FedEx operations center near Indianapolis International Airport after 11 p.m. local time, police said.
It lasted only a couple of minutes and was over by the time police responded to the scene, Craig McCartt, the Indianapolis police department’s deputy chief, told a news briefing on Friday.
Witnesses described a chaotic attack, as the gunman opened fire with a rifle in the parking lot before entering the facility and continuing to shoot, leaving victims both inside and outside the building. Officers found the suspect dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.
A FedEx spokeswoman and police identified the gunman as Brandon Hole, a former employee at the facility. McCartt told reporters the suspect was believed to have last worked at the plant in the fall of 2020.
Asked what brought him back to the facility on Thursday night, McCartt replied: “I wish I could answer that.”
‘SUICIDE BY COP’
The FBI said the suspect had been placed under a temporary mental health detention by Indianapolis police in March 2020 after his mother contacted law enforcement to report he might try to commit “suicide by cop.”
A shotgun was seized from his residence then, and based on “items observed in the suspect’s bedroom at that time,” he was interviewed by the FBI in April 2020, FBI Indianapolis Special Agent in Charge Paul Keenan said in a statement.
“No racially motivated violent extremism ideology” was identified during that assessment, and no criminal violation was found, but the shotgun was not returned, Keenan said.
The massacre is the most recent in a series of U.S. mass shootings that has again pushed the issue of gun violence to the political foreground.
Indianapolis – the capital of the Midwestern state of Indiana – alone has seen two mass shootings this year. In January, police say a teenager shot and killed four family members and a pregnant woman.
Thursday’s gun violence at the FedEx center was the second mass shooting in recent weeks targeting workplaces employing a high concentration of people of Asian descent.
Sikhs, whose religion originated in the Punjab region of the Indian subcontinent, accounted for four of the eight killed and at least one wounded, according to Gurinder Singh Khalsa, a businessman and leader of the local Sikh community.
Singh Khalsa told Reuters the majority of employees at the FedEx site are Sikh.
The Marion County Coroner’s Office later identified the dead as: Matthew Alexander, 32, Samaria Blackwell, 19, Amarjeet Johal, 66, Jaswinder Kaur, 64, Jaswinder Singh, 68, Amarjit Sekhon, 48, Karli Smith, 19, and John Weisert, 74.
The New York-based Sikh Coalition, which describes itself as the largest Sikh civil rights organization in the United States, said it expected authorities to “conduct a full investigation — including the possibility of bias as a factor.”
The coalition’s executive director, Satjeet Kaur, said more than 8,000 Sikh-Americans live in Indiana.
The recent surge in U.S. mass shootings began on March 16 when a gunman shot eight people to death, including six Asian woman, at three Atlanta-area day spas before he was arrested.
That rampage heightened tensions already brewing over a rise in hate crimes and discrimination directed at Asian Americans in recent years, stoked in part by racially inflammatory rhetoric about the coronavirus pandemic’s origins in China.