By Cameron McWhirter, Jeffrey Horwitz and Nora Naughton 

INDIANAPOLIS -- A 19-year old former employee opened fire at a FedEx Corp. facility here Thursday night, killing eight people and wounding several others before taking his own life, in the third deadly shooting of this scale in the U.S. in recent weeks.

Law-enforcement officials identified the suspect Friday as Brandon Hole, and said he was temporarily committed last year for mental-health problems. The Federal Bureau of Investigation also confiscated a gun from him last year. He worked at FedEx for two months, from August to October 2020, FedEx said.

Around 11 p.m. Thursday, the suspect arrived at the FedEx Ground facility's parking lot, got out of his car and started shooting at people, Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Deputy Chief Craig McCartt said at a news conference Friday morning. The man then entered the building, shooting at more people before killing himself.

Four people with gunshot wounds were taken to local hospitals, and a fifth person shot in the attack sought medical attention in another county, police said. Two others were treated at the scene and released. Of the deceased, four were found in the parking lot and four inside the facility.

When police arrived, they found "an active and chaotic crime scene," Deputy Chief McCartt said. The incident lasted only a few minutes, and by the time police went inside the facility, "the situation was over," he said.

Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Chief Randal Taylor said, "When they arrived on the scene, they found something that really no one should see."

The suspect used a rifle, police said. Police and local FBI agents were searching a couple of locations and a car related to Mr. Hole, they said.

According to police, the victims include Matthew Alexander, 32 years old; Samaria Blackwell, 19; Amarjeet Johal, 66; Jaswinder Kaur, 64; Jaswinder Singh, 68; Amarjit Sekhon, 48; Karli Smith, 19; and John Weisert, 74.

Among those killed were at least four members of the Sikh community, according to the Sikh Coalition, a national advocacy group, and executive director Satjeet Kaur said the coalition is in touch with law-enforcement officials.

In a statement released by the Sikh coalition late Friday, Komal Cohan, Ms. Johal's granddaughter, said she has several family members who work at the FedEx facility.

"My nani, my family and our families should not feel unsafe at work, at their place of worship, or anywhere," Ms. Komal said.

The Sikh community has been growing in Indianapolis since the late 1990s, according to a history of the Sikh Satsang of Indianapolis posted on a website for Butler University, a private college located in Indianapolis. The local congregation has grown from 50 to more than 1,000 community members in the last decade, most of whom are from the Punjab region at the border of India and Pakistan, the website says. Sikhism is a monotheistic religion founded in this region in the 1400s.

In March 2020, the suspect's mother contacted law enforcement to report that he might try to commit "suicide by cop," said Paul Keenan, special agent in charge of the FBI's Indianapolis field office. The suspect was temporarily detained by police to determine whether he met the criteria to be involuntarily committed, and officials seized a shotgun.

Last April, he was interviewed by the FBI, and no racially motivated violent extremist ideology was identified during the course of the assessment and no criminal violation was found, but his shotgun wasn't returned, Mr. Keenan said.

Facebook said it took down two accounts connected with the suspect shortly after the shooting at the request of Indianapolis police, according to an internal Facebook memo reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

Content on the accounts revealed no clear evidence of a motive for the attack, the memo stated. It focused mostly on the toy franchise and children's cartoon series "My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic." An internet subculture of mostly young men interested in the show -- who call themselves "Bronies," a mashup of "bro" and "ponies" -- has existed for years. "Brony online culture has displayed elements of far-right and white nationalist extremism," but there is no clear indication those were motivations in the shooting, the memo said.

In October 2020, one of the accounts was partially blocked for a month by Facebook for posting a cartoon "suggesting that Jesus was reincarnated as Adolf Hitler," according to the memo.

A post timestamped 10:19 p.m., less than an hour before the shooting, featured an image of the cartoon pony named Applejack. "I hope that I can be with Applejack in the afterlife, my life has no meaning without her," the post said. "If there's no afterlife and she isn't real then my life never mattered anyway."

Indianapolis police said they would continue to explore the suspect's social media activity but declined to comment further. Law-enforcement authorities didn't discuss a possible motive Friday.

Fred Smith, the founder and chief executive of FedEx, said in a message to employees Friday it would take some time to understand what happened in "this senseless act of violence."

In a second message to staff Friday, Mr. Smith identified the eight staff who were killed and said the shooting occurred in the parking lot and facility's screening area.

Mr. Smith said the company is cooperating with law enforcement and providing counselors to local employees and their families.

Deputy Chief McCartt said Friday the Marion County coroner's office would be working to identify the victims, a process he hoped would be completed in the next 24 hours.

"What we are left with this morning is grief," said Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett at the news conference. Among those grieving include "many Americans struggling to understand how tragedies like this continue to occur again and again."

Mr. Hogsett, a Democrat, called on political leaders to find solutions to reduce mass shootings.

"The eyes of the nation are on Indianapolis today in ways that we would never have hoped for," he said.

Gun control is a priority for President Biden and his aides, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday. Republicans have opposed most Democratic gun proposals, though there are more limited measures that could win bipartisan support.

"Last night and into the morning in Indianapolis, yet again families had to wait to hear word about the fate of their loved ones. What a cruel wait and fate that has become too normal and happens every day somewhere in our nation," Mr. Biden said in a statement. "Gun violence is an epidemic in America. But we should not accept it. We must act."

The FedEx facility employs about 875 people and roughly 100 were at the facility when the shooting took place, a FedEx spokeswoman said. The 300,000-square-foot package sorting facility operates multiple shifts a day.

By about 6 p.m. Friday afternoon, the outside of the FedEx facility was largely quiet, with at least two forensic vans driving away. Yellow crime-scene tape rimmed the perimeter of the parking lot, and police were guarding the entrance.

In certain areas of FedEx Ground facilities, only authorized workers are allowed to have access to their phones, the spokeswoman said. The policy aims to "minimize potential distractions around package sortation equipment and dock operations."

Deputy Chief McCartt said the cellphone policy didn't appear to have delayed reporting the shooting to police. Many employees didn't have their cellphones after the shooting, which delayed their ability to reach family members, he said.

"That was certainly frustrating for those employees as well as their families," he said.

FedEx and UPS facilities have experienced smaller shootings in recent years. In June 2017, a UPS warehouse worker opened fire during a morning meeting of delivery drivers in San Francisco, killing three before turning the gun on himself.

In 2014, a worker at a FedEx facility in suburban Atlanta opened fire at his workplace, wounding multiple people before killing himself.

In recent weeks, there has been a rash of mass shootings in the U.S., after comparatively few over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic. On March 16, a gunman killed eight people at spas in the Atlanta area. Days later, another gunman killed 10 at a supermarket in Boulder, Colo.

Valerie Bauerlein, Thomas Gryta, Dan Frosch, Zusha Elinson, Aruna Viswanatha and Jim Oberman contributed to this article.

Write to Cameron McWhirter at cameron.mcwhirter@wsj.com and Nora Naughton at Nora.Naughton@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

April 16, 2021 23:37 ET (03:37 GMT)

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