INDIANAPOLIS – The gunman who carried out a massacre at a FedEx sorting facility, killing eight people before shooting himself, was a 19-year-old former employee who had had a shotgun seized by authorities last year, Indianapolis police said Friday.
The shooting, which left seven injured, came during a shift break at the facility, and left bodies throughout the parking lot and inside the cavernous warehouse just after 11 p.m. Thursday night.
Authorities said they were investigating what might have motivated the killer, whom they identified as Brandon Hole. He appeared to have fired his assault rifle at “random,” officials said, and the entire attack lasted no more than a couple of minutes. For hours afterward, relatives of those who had been at work at FedEx waited to learn whether their loved ones had lived or died.
Authorities identified the victims 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. A family member gave a different age for Sekhon (49) and a different age and name spelling for Jasvinder Kaur (50).
At least four of those killed were members of the Sikh community in Indianapolis, according to the Sikh Coalition, a national advocacy group. Among them was Johal – a hard worker who took night shifts at the FedEx facility to support her family, including at least three grandchildren, according to Gurpreet Singh, the president of her temple. Johal’s granddaughter, Komal Chohan, said that she is “heartbroken” and that several other family members who work at the FedEx facility are “traumatized.”
“My nani, my family and our families should not feel unsafe at work, at their place of worship or anywhere,” Chohan said. “Enough is enough – our community has been through enough trauma.”
Long before the shooting, Hole had been known to law enforcement. Last spring, after his mother reported her fears that he would attempt “suicide by cop,” he was questioned by authorities, and the police temporarily detained him for mental health reasons, FBI Indianapolis Special Agent in Charge Paul Keenan said.
With Hole’s shotgun seized and not returned, it was unclear how he had obtained the rifle used Thursday night.
The mass killing in Indianapolis was the latest in a grim litany that has left a trail of bloodstained sorrow across the country this spring. In the past five weeks, there have been six public mass shootings in the United States, including massacres at three Atlanta spas and a supermarket in Boulder, Colo. Together, the shootings have claimed 40 lives. The Indianapolis killing came a day before the 14th anniversary of a mass shooting at Virginia Tech, in which a gunman killed 32 people.
The latest killings add to an endlessly growing list of communities scarred by a burst of gunfire in a shared space, including violent rampages that cut people down in workplaces, churches, synagogues, schools, grocery stores, movie theaters, nightclubs and concerts.
As with those shootings, the political response to the massacre in Indianapolis followed a well-worn pattern on Friday: Democrats insisted on strengthening gun control laws, while Republicans remained unbendingly opposed.
President Biden said Friday that gun violence “stains our character and pierces the very soul of our nation” as he – yet again – ordered flags at the White House and other federal properties be lowered to half-staff.
In a statement in which he called gun violence an “epidemic,” Biden also reiterated his call for Congress to pass universal background checks and an assault-weapon ban.
“We can, and must, do more to act and to save lives,” said Biden, who last week announced several executive actions on gun control during an event at the Rose Garden but lacks the 60 votes needed in the Senate to pass gun-control legislation.
Despite the prodding from Democrats, Republicans – who have resisted gun-control measures for decades – showed no sign of reconsidering.
Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb, a Republican, called it “another heartbreaking day” and described himself as “shaken by the mass shooting at the FedEx Ground facility in Indianapolis. In times like this, words like justice and sorrow fall short in response for those senselessly taken.”
His statement made no mention of gun control.
As with many mass killings, the shooting played out with no warning. It began and ended just after 11 p.m. at a one-story, 300,000-square foot FedEx Ground sorting facility in southwestern Indianapolis, five miles away from a much larger company hub at the city’s airport. With multiple shifts a day, the facility employs approximately 875 people; about 100 employees were there at the time of the shooting, according to FedEx.
Craig McCartt, deputy chief of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, said interviews with witnesses indicated that the gunman parked his car, exited “and pretty quickly started some random shooting” in the parking lot before continuing his rampage inside the facility. Police said that the rampage lasted only “one or two minutes” and that Hole shot himself before officers arrived.
McCartt told reporters that Hole worked at FedEx until 2020 and that he did not know the circumstances of his departure.
Within minutes of the shooting, the ominous dispatches for 8951 Mirabel Rd. started flooding the police radio in Indianapolis.
“Control, advise Eskenazi we’ll have multiple patients,” came one report, as archived by Broadcastify. “Advise them to be ready. Advise St. Vincent.”
“We’re calling the hospitals,” came a reply.
Timothy Bouillat, a 29-year-old package handler at the warehouse, told The Washington Post that he was eating dinner in an outdoor break area Thursday night when he heard two shots clanging against metal. He initially mistook the sound for an engine backfiring.
His co-worker stood up to see what was going on and pointed out a man with a weapon, Bouillat said.
As four or five more shots went off, the pair spotted another person going into a car and retrieving a gun of their own. Moments later, Bouillat said, that person was on the ground, apparently wounded by the shooter.
Bouillat, who has worked at the warehouse for a decade, said the shooting left him “dumbfounded.”
“I’m trying to process what happened and not lose composure,” he said. “It could have been me. I could have been the one on the floor, not being able to see my twin boys again.”
In addition to those killed, five people were treated for injures at local hospitals and two were treated at the scene.
For many desperate for word on relatives, it was a long and painful wait: FedEx employees at the packaging facility are not allowed to carry cellphones while working. The policy is intended to “minimize potential distractions,” according to FedEx spokesman Jim Masilak, but relatives said it prolonged the wait as survivors attempted to reunite with their loved ones.
On Friday night, authorities confirmed Weisert had been killed.
Among those awaiting news was Mary Carol Weisert, who had not heard from her husband of almost 50 years, Steve Weisert. She said she had been begging the 74-year-old for weeks to retire from his job as a package handler so that they could travel and visit their daughter in Seattle.
After learning of the shooting, Mary Carol Weisert said she spent Thursday night sipping coffee and praying with her son in their Honda Pilot.
Throughout the morning, relatives continued to stream into the lobby. “I’m here for my son, to find out if he was one of the ones killed,” said one man as he entered the hotel, with tears in his eyes.
Some received the news they had dreaded: Jeremy Teague told The Post that his cousin Lisa Barton was among the workers who were killed. She had just started her shift at 11 p.m. and was leaving the break room, he said. “Lisa, she was a sweet girl,” Teague said. “I don’t know why she had to be shot. This is just senseless.”
Gurpreet Singh, the president of Gurdwara Sikh Satsang of Indianapolis, a local temple for the city’s vibrant Sikh community, said four Sikhs were among the dead and community leaders on the scene were still trying to get more details.
Satjeet Kaur, executive director of the Sikh Coalition, said he was saddened that some of those injured and killed were Sikhs.
“While we don’t yet know the motive or identity of the shooter, we expect that authorities will continue to conduct a full investigation – including the possibility of bias as a factor,” he said in a statement.
Experts and researchers have found common threads in America’s epidemic of mass shootings -many of which apply in Indianapolis. Active shooters tend to be male and, fueled by grievance, will often target a place they know. Mass attackers, experts say, often nurse a sense of victimization.
In 2018, the FBI released a study examining dozens of shooters who opened fire between 2000 and 2013. Rather than acting out of the blue, researchers found that these attackers often exhibited several concerning behaviors before opening fire. More than half of the attackers signaled their intent to commit violence. And most of them obtained their guns legally.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said Friday that it was working to trace the rifle used in Thursday night’s shooting.
Keenan, the FBI agent, said the bureau had interviewed Hole in April 2020 based on “items observed in the suspect’s bedroom” when he was visited by Indianapolis police officers a month earlier, following his mother’s report.
Keenan’s statement did not specify what those items were, and an FBI spokeswoman declined to comment.
Keenan said no “Racially Motivated Violent Extremism” – an FBI term generally used to refer to those motivated to commit crimes based on race – was identified during the FBI’s assessment, and “no criminal violation was found.”
The FBI said it was assisting Indiana authorities with the investigation into the FedEx shooting, offering them resources and looking for any federal nexus.
The toll at the FedEx facility eclipsed the one from a mass shooting there in January, which was then the city’s largest mass shooting in over a decade. That incident left six people dead, including a child and a pregnant woman.
In an emotional statement Friday morning, Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett, a Democrat, called his city a “resilient community” that will be challenged “for days and weeks to come.”
The challenge will last far longer for those directly affected – even those counting themselves lucky on Friday just to have survived.
One Indianapolis FedEx employee, who asked to be identified only by his first name, Tim, because his company had not authorized him to speak to the media, said he was 10 minutes late to his 11 p.m. shift Thursday night after he stopped to buy a Pepsi.
When he arrived, he was told he wasn’t allowed into the building. He was soon evacuated from the premises as police responded to the shooting.
“If I had been 10 minutes early to work, could it have been me?” Tim asked. “Only the good Lord knows.”
When his phone buzzed with a message, he began to tear up. It was from his 7-year-old daughter.
“Are you ok, daddy? I love you.”
“When I get home tonight, I’m going to wrap up my little girl and actually tell her how much I love her,” he said, crying.
He texted back three words to answer her question.
“Yes I am.”
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The Washington Post’s Teo Armus, John Wagner, Hamza Shaban, Abigail Hauslohner, Hannah Knowles, Matt Zapotosky, Marisa Iati and Annie Gowen contributed to this report.