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Sikhs on LI, elsewhere mourn victims of Indianapolis mass shooting

First responders and law enforcement gather at the

First responders and law enforcement gather at the scene of the mass shooting at a FedEx facility Friday in Indianapolis. Credit: AP / Michael Conroy

INDIANAPOLIS — Tight-knit Sikh communities in Indiana, Long Island and elsewhere mourned Saturday after members learned that four Sikhs were among the eight people killed in the mass shooting at a FedEx warehouse in Indianapolis.

Amarjit Sekhon, a 48-year-old mother of two sons, was the breadwinner of her family and one of many members of Indianapolis' Sikh community employed at the warehouse on the city's southwest side. Her family is among many left stunned after Sekhon and the seven others were killed late Thursday.

"She was a workaholic, she always was working, working," her brother-in-law, Kuldip Sekhon, said Saturday. "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."

He said his sister-in-law began working at the FedEx facility in November and was a dedicated worker whose husband was disabled.

The grieving extends well beyond Indiana. On Long Island, members of the Sikh community expressed sadness, sympathy and concern about violence toward the people of their faith.

Satleen Kaur, 21, of Plainview, said she has a friend in Indianapolis whose grandmother, Amarjeet Johal, was among the dead. She said she spoke to her friend, who is in shock.

"It's a very tough time," Kaur said. "It feels too close to home. Everyone's here for a better life — and here's what happened."

Kaur, who is vice president of the Baruch United Sikh Association at Baruch College in Manhattan, where she is studying international marketing management, added: "It makes the world a scarier place."

In addition to Sekhon and Johal, 66, the Marion County, Indiana, coroner's office identified the dead as: Matthew R. Alexander, 32; Samaria Blackwell, 19; 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. Authorities have not publicly speculated on a motive.

Mohinder Singh Teneja, 65, of Salisbury in Nassau County, said the Sikh community on Long Island, which he said was about 5,000 families, will say prayers for the affected families this weekend.

"Suddenly we are all very much devastated," Teneja said. "This shouldn't happen anywhere in the world."

Teneja said he came to the United States from India in 1985, never expecting that something so tragic could happen here.

Ranjit Bhatia, 55, of Hicksville, said the tragedy made him think about the misunderstandings about people of the Sikh faith. "We are very famous in history for being peaceful and brave," he said.

Bhatia said he has a son who works in a FedEx facility in Connecticut, and he spoke to him Friday and told him to stay safe. "When you have a son working in the same kind of facility, you feel the same kind of fear for them," he said.

The killings marked some of 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.

There are between 8,000 and 10,000 Sikh Americans in Indiana, according to the Sikh 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.

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 United States. Many practicing Sikhs are visually distinguishable by their articles of faith, which include a turban.

In Indianapolis, several dozen people gathered at the Olivet Missionary Baptist Church on 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."

With Craig Schneider

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