Honoring Lives Lost: Elected Officials, Community and Faith Leaders Remember Victims of FedEx Facility Shooting
- The three-hour memorial held at the Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana, May 1, included messages from President Joe Biden, former vice president Mike Pence, several of the state’s congressional representatives and other officials.
Community members gathered at the Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana, May 1, to honor the eight people killed in a mass shooting at a FedEx facility last month. Amarjeet Kaur Johal, 66; Amarjit Sekhon, 48; Matthew R. Alexander, 32; Samaria Blackwell, 19; Jasvinder Kaur, 50; Jaswinder Singh, 68; Karli Smith, 19; and John Weisert, 74, were shot on April 15 by Brandon Scott Hole, a 19-year-old former employee, who went on a shooting rampage on April 15. Hole was later found dead in what is believed to be a suicide nearby.
This FedEx facility was known as the ‘Desi FedEx’ or the ‘Punjabi FedEx’ because of the number of people from the community working there, a prominent member of the Sikh American community from Indianapolis, who did to want to be identified, told American Kahani. “Even the leadership here is mainly Punjabi, so communication was never a barrier [for the Sikh and Punjabi people working here].” About 10,000 Sikh Americans have made Indiana their home over the past 50 years, with most living in Hendricks County and the Southside of Indianapolis.
The killings sent shockwaves within the community, with many recalling the tragic hate-crimes committed on Sikh Americans since Sept. 11. 2011. Although the motive of the gunman is unknown, local leaders said his actions generated fear similar to what many Sikhs felt after the Sept. 11 attacks, when they were confused for Muslims, and after a 2012 rampage by a white supremacist, who killed six people at a gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. Meanwhile, authorities have not yet said whether bias is a factor in the gunman’s motive.
In an earlier interview with American Kahani, Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) said the attack hit particularly close to home because four of the eight victims were Sikh Americans. “I am very concerned that the shooter may have, in part, targeted these people because of who they were,” he said. “It’s not a stretch to say that in general there has been a large rise in hate crimes toward non-White people and for these particular victims to have been targeted in part based on their faith would be consistent with the unfortunate pattern of a lot of shootings and violence over the course of the past year.”
The three-hour event on May 1 began with an ardaas or Sikh prayer, after which elected local, state and federal officials remembered the victims and offered to lend their support to the community. In addition, nearly a dozen leaders from various faith traditions shared messages of hope, faith and love.
President Joe Biden, former Vice President Mike Spence and Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.) sent letters of support, as did his brother Rep. Greg Pence and several of the state’s congressional representatives. Others like New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal and Hoboken, New Jersey Mayor Ravi Bhalla, recorded video messages.
“We are so thankful to everyone who came together to attend and help put on this important event,” said Balwinder Singh, an Indianapolis Sikh community leader. “What happened on April 15 is a tragedy that forever altered too many lives, and only by coming together to grieve, honor, and call for action can we move forward.”
“It makes us feel like we’re not alone,” Komal Chohan told The Indianapolis Star. Chohan is the granddaughter of Amarjeet Kaur Johal, one of the eight victims. “We don’t know if this was bias related. It feels good to know that not everybody views us in that manner and not everybody sees us as outsiders. In moments like this, we do feel like maybe we can call this our home as well.”
Biden’s letter of support was read aloud by Erika Moritsugu, deputy assistant to the president and Asian American and Pacific Islander senior liaison. “To the people of Indiana, I share the heartbreak you are experiencing after such senseless violence pierced your community and our nation’s soul once again,” read the letter. “They were our friends and neighbors. They were immigrants and fellow Americans, seeking their own piece of the American dream.”
In his letter, the former vice president expressed solidarity with the Sikh community which adds to the tapestry of this country. “Know that our hearts and our prayers are with you all,” the former governor of Indiana said in the letter. “We join fellow Hoosiers across the state of Indiana and Americans across the country in expressing our heartfelt condolences. … You have been in our hearts since that horrific night, and you remain in our prayers today.” Pavan Singh, one of the event hosts, said the Pence family helped get visas for family members to attend the funerals.
Gov. Eric Holcomb, in his address to the roughly 100 people in attendance, praised the Sikh’s community’s commitment to service. He recalled how the Sikh community jumped into action in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic to sew handmade masks when there was a shortage. “We’re left wondering why pain this deep could ever be inflicted,” he said. “We’re left wondering, why must any day be that dark? Why must tragedy strike and tear your community apart?”
He expressed his support to the larger Sikh community, “with each of the families of the victims, with the hundreds of others who are feeling the impact of this tragedy, and with our law enforcement and first responders who face it daily so most of us don’t have to.” He continued: “And we stand with this city and the entire community, still reeling from the impact of that terrible day. I’m grateful for each person here today to honor lives so tragically lost, to show support for survivors and to extend a comforting hand to the families and friends who were taken from us far too soon.”
Mayor Joe Hogsett, who told the crowd he was not just their mayor, but also their brother and their servant, said Indianapolis “made of people brought together in the middle of our country, from every different background but in a common cause and for a common purpose.” He noted that the victims of this mass shooting, two other mass shootings earlier this year and the growing number of victims of gun violence in the city “deserve better.”
The event was jointly organized by the Sikh community in Indianapolis, with the support of national Sikh organizations including the Sikh Coalition, United Sikhs, and the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF).