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Indianapolis Sikh Community Mourns 4 Of Its Members Killed In Shooting

A woman views a collage of photos of Amarjeet Johal during a vigil at Monument Circle on Sunday in Indianapolis. Four of the people killed in the mass shooting were members of the Sikh community.
Jon Cherry
Getty Images
A woman views a collage of photos of Amarjeet Johal during a vigil at Monument Circle on Sunday in Indianapolis. Four of the people killed in the mass shooting were members of the Sikh community.

Updated April 18, 2021 at 8:08 PM ET

Members of Indianapolis' Sikh community are mourning four of its members who were killed in Thursday night's shooting attack at a FedEx warehouse that left eight victims dead.

"These kinds of violent attacks are a threat to all of us," said community member Maninder Singh Walia in a statement released by the Sikh Coalition. "Our community has a long road of healing — physically, mentally, and spiritually — to recover from this tragedy."

According to the coalition, the local Sikh community has grown significantly in the past two decades, with an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 Sikh Americans living in Indiana.

Police identified the victims of the shooting as Matthew R. Alexander, 32, Samaria Blackwell, 19, Amarjeet Johal, 66, Jaswinder Kaur, 64, Jaswinder Singh, 68, Amarjit Sekhon, 48, Karlie Smith, 19, and John Weisert, 74.

The gunman was identified as 19-year-old Brandon Hole. He was an employee at the facility and last worked there in 2020, according to police officials.

The shock of the massacre is only compounded by the fact the employees aren't allowed to have cellphones while at work. This led to many being unable to call family members.

Amarjeet Johal's granddaughter, Komal Chohan, saidin statement that several members of her family work at the facility "and are traumatized. My nani, my family, and our families should not feel unsafe at work, at their place of worship, or anywhere. Enough is enough — our community has been through enough trauma."

Johal had been planning to work a double shift, then take Friday off, Chohan said in a tweet. She said her grandmother then decided to grab her check and leave. Johal was later discovered with her check still in hand, Chohan said.

Amarjit Sekhon was a mother of two who began working at the FedEx facility in November. Her brother-in-law, Kuldip Sekhon, said she was a "hard worker," the Indianapolis Star reported.

"She liked to work. She liked to eat. She liked money," he said. "If you wanted to take her shopping, she would go with you."

Representatives of eight Indianapolis area gurdwaras — Sikh worship houses — called for action.

"We do not know yet the motive of the shooter, and we may never know for sure what drove him to do what he did," they said in a statement. "We do know, however, that the FedEx facility he targeted was well known for having a large Sikh workforce. Given everything our community has experienced in the past — the pattern of violence, bigotry, and backlash we have faced — it is impossible not to feel that same pain and targeting in this moment."

Authorities have not indicated whether the gunman targeted the Sikh community in particular. Even so, bigoted acts of violence and harassment are not new to the American Sikh community.

In the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, Sikhs — who are often mistaken for Muslims — were among those targeted in Islamophobic hate crimes.

In 2012, a white supremacist walked into a Sikh house of worship in Oak Creek, Wis., and opened fire, killing six people.

Valarie Kaur, a Sikh civil rights activist and lawyer, told NPR in 2017that violence against Sikhs is less about cases of "mistaken identity" and more about general xenophobia.

Whether in the early 1900s or today, Kaur said, "it appears to matter little to perpetrators of hate crimes whether the person they are attacking is Sikh and not Muslim. They see turbans, beards and brown skin and it is enough for them to see us as foreign, suspect and potentially terrorist."

On Sunday, Sikh Coalition executive director Sajeet Kaur told NPR: "Way too often, marginalized communities like ours are targeted, and we need to find those sensible measures to ensure that everyone feels safe, whether it's at home, whether it is at a place of worship, whether it is at school, whether it is at work or the movie theater."

President Biden on Friday called the ongoing gun massacres around the country a "national embarrassment."

"Who in God's name needs a weapon that can hold 100 rounds? Or 40 rounds? Or 20 rounds?" Biden said at a news conference. "It's just wrong, and I'm not going to give up until it's done."

In a statement, he called gun violence an epidemic in America that shouldn't be accepted.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: April 18, 2021 at 12:00 AM EDT
An earlier version of this story misspelled Samaria Blackwell's last name as Backwell.
Jeannette Muhammad