Eyewitness Recalls Shooting at FedEx Centre in Indianapolis
Lakhwinder Kaur narrowly escaped the bullets fired at Indianapolis’s FedEx Center on the night of 15 April.
“Mein dab gayi aur meri bahaan ke paas se goli nikal gayi. Meine uske sherrey ko dekha.” (I crouched and the bullet went past me. I saw it.)
Lakhwinder Kaur had a close shave with death at Indianapolis’s FedEx Center on the night of 15 April. She had hung up the phone after speaking with her son and entered the building at 11 pm that night. She found a chair near the counter where paychecks were being distributed to employees, waiting for her shift to begin at 11.20 pm when she heard shots being fired. In a matter of minutes, all hell broke loose.
On the fateful night of 15 April, eight persons were killed and several more injured when an armed man opened fire on workers at a FedEx Center in Indianapolis. The shooter killed himself after beginning the rampage, killing four persons in the parking lot, and four inside the building which had at least 100 employees there at the time, before police arrived. Four of the eight people killed were Sikhs.
Lakhwinder, who was on shift that night, recalls the incident.
Memories That Haunt
While she sat on the chair as checks were being distributed, she saw a man fall on the counter over the checks strewn on the table, and then another to the ground. “Two White women were distributing the checks. I was sitting on a chair. In three minutes, shots were fired. I saw a person fall on the table, over the checks. Another fell behind. I realised he was Punjabi. At first I didn’t know it was the sound of bullets. I thought there must have been a short circuit. When I got up from my chair to see, one of the White women asked me to duck, waving her hands to indicate I should lie flat on the ground.”
While bullets were being fired, Lakhwinder lay on the ground, under the chairs, screaming loudly. “People started lying low. There was one Punjabi woman, who said, ‘Shots are being fired. Lie low.’ The guard, who checks the ID to allow people to enter, ran away. He ran inside the washroom. Everyone was crying. They were rushing towards the washroom. It was at the time when both shifts were present, so there were a lot of people.”
She couldn’t see the man who was firing the bullets. “The side I was on, you couldn't see the shooter. You need an ID to cross over, so he couldn't come through. But he extended his arms and started firing.”
She heard the gunman, “He kept screaming – open the door, open the door!” After a few minutes, Lakhwinder Kaur got up and ran to find safety, “I went to hide inside the manager’s office. But the door was closed. I kept crying, wondering which bathroom to hide in. Someone opened the door to let me in. A Punjabi man asked me to calm down and sit in a corner.”
Lakhwinder says the employees were able to safely leave the building only after the police arrived.
The days that have passed since the ghastly shooting have not lessened Lakhwinder Kaur’s trauma, “Koi aa kar ke maar dega. Goli kaana wich gunji jati hai. Chakkar aate hain, dawai khati hun, neend nahi aati, khana nahi khaya jaata. Mera dimaag set nahi hai, roi jaati hun.” (Someone will come and kill me. I can still hear the gunshots. I feel dizzy. I have been taking medicines but I am unable to sleep and eat. I don’t feel alright, I keep crying)
Lakhwinder wishes to be with her sons, who live half way across the world in India. Her husband passed away when her two sons were very young. As the only parent, she provides for them by sending funds from her FedEx earnings.
She lives in a rented accommodation that belongs to another Punjabi family in Indianapolis and pays a colleague to drive her to and from her workplace. In fluent Punjabi, she told this reporter that the moment that haunts her the most from the night of the shooting is watching Jaswinder Singh die.
“Mein luki thi to kursi ke beech dekhti si. Pag pehna wo tarafda si.” (I was hiding. I was watching him in between the chairs. He was wearing a turban, and trembling.)
Jaswinder Singh was shot down by the gunman at the FedEx Center.
Friends and Relatives Shot Mercilessly
Jaswinder Singh had recently moved to Indianapolis from India after much insistence from his son who has been living in the US for many years. On 12 April, he received his first paycheck at the FedEx facility, where he had started working a few weeks back. He did not need to work for money, but wanted to, just to keep himself busy. But his first job in US, tragically turned out to be his last.
He died holding his first American paycheck at the FedEx Center. His inconsolable son said his father had taken up a job at the FedEx Ground Plainfields Operation Center because he found a desi community there.
Amarjit Sekhon and Jaswinder Kaur, relatives who lived within a mile of each other, drove together for the midnight shift but did not make it inside the building. They were shot down in the parking lot soon after they drove in, their families said.
They had both applied for the FedEx job together. Night shift was the only position available, and they rode together to work each night. Amarjit Sekhon worked countless hours to provide food for her two young children and her specially-abled husband.
Another FedEx employee, Amarjeet Kaur Johal was looking forward to her granddaughter’s roka (engagement) ceremony in two days, and planned to take the next off for preparations. She chose to work two shifts on Thursday, 15 April, even though she did not like working late night. At the end of her shift she picked up her paycheck and could not make it out of the building. When her son identified her body the next day, she was holding her paycheck.
Gaganpal Singh had the tough job of putting together these heart wrenching experiences to narrate them at the Indianapolis Sikh community’s prayer ceremony for the victims of the mass shooting. He had warned families to take their children out as it was going to be a difficult ardas at the Sikh Satsang Gurudwara in Indianapolis.
Gaganpal Singh knows the FedEx Center well as his mother and two aunts work there. Fortunately, Thursday was his mother’s day off, and his two aunts are safe, as they sensed danger as soon as they pulled into the parking lot for their nightshifts. He also helps out at the facility during peak shopping seasons, especially with translation work, as many of its employees speak only Punjabi.
“The facility has a large, 50%-60% employees that are of Indian or Sikh heritage. Mostly Punjabi-speaking friends, neighbours, and relatives working alongside,” he said.
Indiana state has 10 Gurudwaras and is home to an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 Sikh Americans. English is not essential to the work of sealing and loading packages onto trucks, making the facility an attractive opportunity for the Punjabi Community.
“That’s how we desis work, some people joined early on, 7 to 9 years back. It is a very welcoming company to work in. It became a chain reaction, with more people joining, and now the managers are also Sikhs. It is an amazing and enjoyable place, does not feel like work at all – talking with community members and working hard at the same time. Some good friendships blossomed from there,” said Gaganpal.
Not The First Mass Shooting
This was the third mass shooting in Indianapolis in the last 3 months. Residents came together for a vigil held at the Beech Grove City on 18 April, to honour the eight lives lost. Eight wooden hearts painted in blue were scribbled with messages of compassion and solidarity. The Sikh community got together in Gurudwaras and parks across the US for candle light vigils, kirtans, diwans, and ardas, to pray and heal.
The conversations in the Sikh American community are centered around being targeted repeatedly. One of its prominent leaders Lt Col Kamal Kalsi says, “Talking to a lot of fellow South Asians, Sikh and non-Sikh, there is a feeling of disheartening. This is going to be just another brick in a wall that divides our community from others. It is not the first, nor the last event targeting the minority community.”
Racial and violent attacks are not new for the community and its places of worship, more so after 9/11. Kiran Kaur Gill, the Executive Director of SALDEF, a leading Sikh advocacy organisation, is rallying with other groups in support. “This kind of hate has increased over the last couple years. Organisations on the ground are providing support to victims and families. SALDEF is in touch with FBI and law enforcement to ensure that it is thoroughly investigated to understand the motive of the shooter. There is concern in community that this may have been a targeted attack, as the community has been in attacks before,” she said.
The suspect, 19-year-old Brandon Hole was seen using two AR-15 assault style rifles. He was an employee at the FedEx facility in 2020. The vulnerability that the Sikh community is feeling is further amplified by the fact that in spite of Hole’s mother warning the law enforcement in March 2020 that he might try to attempt suicide, he was let go after a short detention on mental health grounds, for lack of any racially motivated will. The authorities have reiterated that they will investigate the motive and any evidence of bias in Indianapolis’s FedEx Center mass shooting.
(Savita Patel is a senior journalist and producer, who produced ‘Worldview India’, a weekly international affairs show, and produced ‘Across Seven Seas’, a diaspora show, both with World Report, aired on DD. She has also covered stories for Voice of America TV from California. She’s currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She tweets @SsavitaPatel.)
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