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Sikh American Community Mourns the Loss of Those Killed in Mass Shooting at the ‘Punjabi FedEx’ Facility

Sikh American Community Mourns the Loss of Those Killed in Mass Shooting at the ‘Punjabi FedEx’ Facility

  • Several members of the community worked at the Indianapolis facility, also known as the ‘Desi FedEx,’ many doing overnight shifts.

Amarjeet Kaur Johal, 66, was working a double shift at the FedEx Ground Plainfields Operation Center in Indianapolis, Indiana, to take a day off for her granddaughter’s engagement on April 17. Jaswinder Singh, 70, started working at the facility just a week ago. Amarjeet Sekhon, 49, moved to Indiana from Ohio to be closer to family and got a job at FedEx about six months ago on an overnight shift. Jasvinder Kaur,50, was gearing up to celebrate her granddaughter’s second birthday over the weekend.

Unfortunately these were among eight lives that were cut short 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].”

Noting that 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 Sikh American source said, “Indianapolis grew fast in terms of immigration.” There were  only 10 families in the area in 1960, he noted, and added that there was no gurdwara until 1991. “A lot of [Sikh] families moved to the area from California and the East Coast,” he said. Currently there are 10 gurdwaras in the greater Indianapolis area. 

The Sikh Satsang of Indianapolis was built about 20 years ago, and has grown from about 50 families to about 1,000 members, the New York Times reported, citing data from the Center for Faith and Vocation at Butler University. Gurdwaras in the Indianapolis area will be holding special prayer services for mourning and discuss whether they need to take any action to protect community members. 

Family members are reeling from the devastating news and are asking for privacy as they deal with their grief. 

In a statement from the Sikh Coalition, Komal Chohan, a granddaughter of Johal, said several of her family members worked at the warehouse and that she was heartbroken about “the senseless shooting.” She continued: “My nani, my family and our families should not feel unsafe at work, at their place of worship, or anywhere,” she said. “Enough is enough — our community has been through enough trauma.”

Anecdotes from family members and friends show the human side of those killed. Some were interrelated through marriages, like Kaur and Sekhon, commuted to work at the FedEx facility together, the Sikh American source said. Kaur moved to the United States from India three years ago, while Sekhon moved to Indianapolis from Ohio to be closer to family. They were both killed in the parking lot. Singh and Johal were killed inside the facility.

Brandon Scott Hole, 19, who has been identified by the police as the killer in FedEx shooting. Top photo, Sikh community leaders speaking about the carnage.

Singh had just started working at the FedEx facility this week and had told everyone how excited he was to get his first paycheck, the source said. He was working the night shift sorting mail. Singh had moved to Indianapolis from California and lived with his son in the suburb of Homecoming. Singh also volunteered at a local gurudwara, according to The New York Times. When Singh’s son told his father that he doesn’t need to work at the Fedex, Sigh replied that he liked to work there because being with his community members made him happy, said the source, recalling a conversation between the father and son. 

“As our country seeks to understand this week’s senseless mass shooting in Indianapolis, both in itself and as part of the larger blight of gun violence, it’s also imperative that authorities fully investigate whether this attack may have been driven by anti-Sikh motivations,” Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi said.

Several of those injured also belonged to the Sikh and Punjabi community. One of them was Harpreet Singh Gill, 45, who was injured by a bullet near his eye. Kamal Jawandha, whose parents both worked at the warehouse and were there at the time of the shooting, told The New York Times that his father was bringing his mother food and getting ready to go inside when the shooting started. His mother hid in the bathroom. “She’s in deep sadness,” he told the Times of his mother. “She could not sleep. She just can’t stop shaking. She can’t believe this kind of thing would happen here.”

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The killings have 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. While many in the community believe that the incident could be driven by anti-Sikh sentiments, the Sikh American source feels that it isn’t a hate-crime. Citing evidence collected by the FBI and quoting Special Agent in Charge Paul Keenan, he says that agents had found Hole had “no racially motivated violent extremism ideology,” when they interviewed him in 2020. 

However, Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) issued a statement condemning the attack. “As our country seeks to understand this week’s senseless mass shooting in Indianapolis, both in itself and as part of the larger blight of gun violence, it’s also imperative that authorities fully investigate whether this attack may have been driven by anti-Sikh motivations,” the statement read. “While we’re still searching for answers, half of this tragedy’s eight victims were members of the Sikh community and the facility was known in the area to be heavily staffed by Sikh employees. This comes as our country has witnessed a recent wave of anti-Asian hate crimes during this pandemic after a broader increase in hate-motivated crimes and violence against a range of American communities over the last half decade. While the Indianapolis and Sikh communities continue to mourn, and as the rest of our country mourns with them, investigators must also determine if this mass shooting was a hate-motivated attack in addition to serving as another example of the plague of gun violence which has beset our nation.”

Activist and attorney Valerie Kaur shared a post on her social media. “A squeeze in the chest. Burning in the rib cage. Ache in my throat.At least four of the eight people killed in #Indianapolis last night were #Sikhs. They were Kaurs and Singhs. They were our aunties and uncles. They were family. And they were massacred,” the post said. “The last time Sikhs were massacred on this scale in this country was in Oak Creek, WI, when a white supremacist opened fire in a Sikh gurdwara on a Sunday morning. The motive of the gunman was hate. We don’t know the motive here yet. Was it workplace rage? A desire to die violently by police-suicide? Animosity for the people he had worked with — their brown skin, turbans and Punjabi? My guess is some of all of the above. White supremacy often runs under the surface. We demand the police investigate the role of bias. Meanwhile, we don’t need a hate crime classification in order to grieve with the families — and the Sikh community.”

The greater Indianapolis community is coming together to help the families of those killed. Indianapolis mayor Joe Hogsett is in conversation with the Consulate General of India in Chicago Amit Kumar. A fundraiser is also started for all families who lost a member in the shooting. As the source puts it. “Everyone is doing their best to console the families. Along with that we have to make sure that there’s enough inputting and contributing to help the community as well as severe laws and legislations against gun violence.”

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