About the lives lost in the FedEx shooting in Indianapolis

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The FedEx facility in Indianapolis where a gunman killed eight employees is pictured on Friday,April 16, 2021. MUST CREDIT: Photo by Megan Jelinger for The Washington Post

The FedEx package sorting facility near the Indianapolis airport is a sprawling, nondescript warehouse with multiple shifts of workers – a popular workplace for recent high school graduates starting their adult lives, but also a gathering place for older Indian immigrants searching for community in addition to a paycheck.

Eight of those who worked at the facility were killed Thursday night by a 19-year-old former fellow co-worker who opened fire in the parking lot and then continued his rampage inside, shattering lives and communities as he went. The tragedy was the third mass shooting in the city this year, and the sixth public mass shooting in the United States in five weeks.

Four of the eight victims were Indian immigrants from Indianapolis’s close-knit Sikh community that is centered on the local Sikh Satsang temple.

Amarjeet Kaur Johal, a 66-year-old grandmother, worked at the sorting facility so she could help support her family and spoil her grandchildren. Jaswinder Singh, 68, was in his second week of working there because he was bored at home and wanted to be around other immigrants from Punjab. Jasvinder Kaur, 50, and Amarjit Sekhon, who was in her late 40s, were relatives and worked together to support their families.

The oldest victim was John “Steve” Weisert, a 74-year-old Air Force veteran and box handler who had worked at the facility for four years and planned to retire soon, although he warned his wife that he might miss working and have to return. The youngest victims were Karli Smith and Samaria Blackwell, both 19-year-old recent high school graduates excited to collect a paycheck. Smith had hoped to save up for a car, and Blackwell had dreamed of a career as a police officer.

Also killed in that facility that night was Matthew R. Alexander, 32, a dispatcher known for saving doughnuts for the truck drivers.

Jaswinder Singh, 68

Amarjeet Kaur Johal, 66

John “Steve” Weisert, 74

Karli Ann Smith, 19

Jasvinder Kaur, 50

Amarjit Sekhon, late 40s

Samaria Blackwell, 19

Matthew R. Alexander, 32

– – –

Jaswinder Singh, 68

Jaswinder Singh never got to cash his first paycheck.

The 68-year-old Indian immigrant decided to take a job at the FedEx facility because he was bored at home and the employer was popular among Punjabi immigrants. He started work on April 4 and was trying to collect his paycheck when he was killed along with three other members of the tightknit Sikh community, according to a nephew.

Like other older Punjabi co-workers, Singh wanted to take his pay in a hard check rather than by direct deposit.

“They knew a lot of people who worked there,” said a 27-year-old nephew who lived near him and spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect his privacy. “They just carpooled together. It was a decent-paying job. A lot of older Punjabis worked there.”

Relatives said Singh left the Indian state of Punjab, where the Sikh community is concentrated, about eight years ago to reunite with relatives living in the United States.

Singh first arrived in Tracy, Calif., in the agricultural Central Valley region known for a large Sikh community with deep farming roots. He later moved to Greenwood, Ind., where about 25 relatives, including a son, lived in the same majority-Punjabi subdivision. Singh enjoyed long walks around the subdivision.

“He was always positive, always nice and I never saw him angry,” Singh’s nephew said. “He would randomly come over to say hi.”

Jatinder Singh, one of Singh’s two sons, told the Indian news outlet Republic World that the family hopes to return him to India for funeral rites but face complications because of the pandemic. The elder Singh last visited his homeland two years ago. In the same interview, a nephew of Singh’s lamented that immigrants should feel safe in their new country and described the mass shooting as an attack on the Sikh community.

– Fenit Nirappil and Sabrina Malhi

– – –

Amarjeet Kaur Johal, 66

On Amarjeet Kaur Johal’s bed, the traditional Punjabi salwar dress – green with flowers – is still laid out in anticipation of her granddaughter’s 11th birthday.

But Johal never made it home.

The 66-year-old grandmother of five worked at the FedEx facility so she could spoil her grandchildren, and she was shot as she was opening the door to leave FedEx, her paycheck still in her hand, according to her family. Her end-of-work ritual of eating dinner, getting in her car, turning on her phone and calling her sister living in India was cut short, leaving family members wondering what could have happened differently.

“What if she just went to the bathroom for a minute?” wondered her niece Romandeep Chohan, 28. “Maybe she would be here still.”

Instead, the older family members had to explain to her grandchildren – the youngest is 6 – that their doting grandmother would not return from work. She wouldn’t cook for them again, as she lovingly did so many times before.

The loss was especially hard for the young family, accustomed to the energetic grandmother who was always working or helping others.

“She was healthy,” Chohan said, wiping away tears.

“She would go out of her way to help people,” Chohan added. “If you needed her in the middle of the night, she’d be there.”

Johal left India in the 1990s, after the 1984 Sikh genocide, and attended the Sikh Satsang temple in Indianapolis, where she frequently volunteered in the kitchen and cooked for the hundreds of members.

She was especially close to her five sisters and one brother, even though the family was spread out across different states and India. She moved from California to Indiana around 2013 to be closer to her sisters there. Her granddaughter, Komal Chohan, called her “a gentle giant.”

When the family learned that Johal had died, Chohan posted a photo of her surrounded by three of her grandchildren – a capsule of an affectionate grandmother.

“I didn’t want her to be just another statistic,” Chohan said.

– Meryl Kornfield and Taylor Telford

– – –

John ‘Steve’ Weisert, 74

John “Cowboy Steve” Weisert liked to call his wife peanut.

The two fell in love at the University of Minnesota, after Mary Carol asked him where to find a copy of the day’s newspaper. It was her excuse to get to know the handsome guy in the dorm lobby. They went on their very first date that next weekend.

The Weiserts would have celebrated 50 years of marriage on Nov. 27, 2021.

Weisert loved jalapeños on his hamburgers. He was a devout Catholic, a fan of professional wrestling and a big goofball who loved to tease his children and their friends by making up silly nicknames. His son, Mike, loved Pearl Jam in high school, and Weisert referred to the band as “Diamond Jelly.”

Cowboy Steve, as he liked to call himself, was an Air Force veteran who had been a first lieutenant. He traveled around the world for his job as an engineer, working for Rolls-Royce in London and Halliburton in Kuwait City. His final job was as a package handler at FedEx in Indianapolis.

He and his wife were still bouncing back after contracting covid-19 earlier this year. Both were fully vaccinated and excited to finally see their daughter Lisa in Seattle after being apart during the pandemic.

“It was miraculous he was able to survive covid,” daughter-in-law Jenny Kriger said. “Yet, this ended up taking him.”

Weisert was planning to retire from FedEx in six weeks.

“He said he was going to try retirement, but if he got bored he would go back to FedEx in the summer,” Mary Carol Weisert said. “He always liked to be busy.”

– Mary Claire Molloy and Taylor Telford

– – –

Karli Ann Smith, 19

Karli Ann Smith had hazel eyes and a fierce attitude.

The 19-year-old was excited when she got a job at FedEx in Indianapolis. She planned to use her paychecks to buy her first car.

“I have been trying so hard for myself,” she texted her close friend Prestija Woods, 17, before getting the job. “I know I need to grow up and that’s what I’ve been tryna do.”

Smith and Woods had been friends since elementary school, when they would walk to the bus stop, blasting music from a speaker. The two would dance together on the way to school.

Smith was supposed to celebrate Woods’s 17th birthday Friday night. Instead, friends and family members learned that Smith had been one of eight people killed at the FedEx facility.

Smith was a big sister and a role model with a soft side for the people she loved, said childhood friend Tessa Lindsey.

“Honestly, she was one of the realest people I knew,” Lindsey, 17, said.

Smith loved anything Disney, especially “The Lion King,” and also adored “The Simpsons.” She played softball for a team at a local park as a first baseman. She knew the lyrics to every Chris Brown song. Whenever she did the dishes, she would play with the soap.

Smith graduated from high school in 2020 and was excited about 2021, promising Woods it was going to be their year.

“Its gon b a good year, tootie, istg,” Smith texted her on April 3.

Smith was afraid of growing up, according to her Facebook page, but had hoped to live to be 100.

– Taylor Telford and Mary Claire Molloy

– – –

Jasvinder Kaur, 50

Jasvinder Kaur, 50, loved to cook. Even when she was exhausted from working late-night shifts at FedEx, she’d come home and make a meal for her family.

“There’s a saying that when a mother loves, her love comes out in food,” said Rimpi Girn, one of her relatives. “She was a mother to us.”

The last meal she made was rice, beans and curry.

“Auntie Kaur” was supposed to cook for her 2-year-old granddaughter’s birthday party Saturday. Now the family is planning two funerals.

Kaur and another relative, Amarjit Sekhon, were killed Thursday as they arrived for their 11 p.m. shift. Kaur didn’t have a driver’s license, so Sekhon drove her to work every day. Girn said she thinks the two were shot in the parking lot and died in the car together.

“Last Sunday, she was talking to me about how she wanted to learn to drive,” Girn said.

Kaur immigrated from India about three years ago to be with her daughter, who is a U.S. citizen. Kuldip Sekhon, who is the father-in-law of Kaur’s daughter, said Kaur’s husband died when her children were young.

“She was very hardworking, very nice,” he said.

Kaur’s 26-year-old son lives in India, and she had hoped to bring him to the United States, but those plans were stalled because of the pandemic. They had not seen each other in more than a year. Girn said relatives are trying to secure him a U.S. visa so he can be in Indianapolis for the funeral.

“We want him to see her one last time,” Girn said, “even though he can’t talk to her.”

– Mary Claire Molloy, Fenit Nirappil and Taylor Telford

– – –

Amarjit Sekhon

Amarjit Sekhon died where she had worked tirelessly to provide for her family.

Sekhon, who was in her late 40s, had been working at the FedEx facility since last November to support her two sons. She toiled long hours, in part because her husband is paralyzed from a disability that left him unable to work, said Kuldip Sekhon, her husband’s brother.

“She was a hard worker and always wanted to work and was always working overtime and asking for overtime shifts,” Kuldip Sekhon said. “She liked to have a good house, have good cars.”

Sekhon moved to the United States in 2005, initially settling in Ohio and working for a bakery before relocating to Indianapolis several years ago to be closer to family members, her brother-in-law said.

She worked at FedEx with Jasvinder Kaur, who also died in the shooting.

Amarjit Sekhon leaves behind a 16-year-old son in high school and a 22-year-old son in his last year of college. Kuldip Sekhon said the family would rally to make sure the sons are financially supported. Another relative set up a GoFundMe page to cover funeral expenses and medical expenses for the affected families.

– Fenit Nirappil

– – –

Samaria Blackwell, 19

Samaria Blackwell, 19, was an athlete and recent high school graduate who dreamed of becoming a police officer, friends and family members said.

She was the youngest of four siblings and a fierce competitor for the basketball and soccer teams for Indy Genesis, a group that organized home-schooled children into competitive sports teams, the association said.

“Samaria was always smiling and cracking jokes. She was so loving, goofy, encouraging, and supportive,” one of her teammates said for a statement issued by the athletic organization.

“Samaria was fun on the court. She had a mean game face and when she put a mouth guard in, I wouldn’t like to go next to her,” joked Matt Barnes, the chaplain for the Indiana Statehouse and the father of two of Samaria’s teammates. “But when she stepped off the court, she just wanted to have fun. I know it seems cliche, but she was 19 and had the world ahead of her.”

Barnes said that her teammates called Blackwell “Stitches,” because she was once injured playing basketball and needed to be stitched up. She and his daughter Sarah often would sing the Shawn Mendes song “Stitches” together.

Samaria’s parents, Jeff and Tammi, issued a statement giving thanks for the “outpouring of love and support” and saying they were blessed to have such a “fun-loving, caring daughter as the baby of our family.”

They said she had looked up to her siblings – Elijah, Levi and Michaiah – and that they and her dog, Jasper, would miss her.

Samaria also enjoyed spending time with seniors, including many hours with her grandmother “Memaw Sue,” mulching flower beds and setting up Christmas decorations.

“As an intelligent, straight A student, Samaria could have done anything she chose to put her mind to, and because she loved helping people, she dreamed of becoming a police officer,” the parents said. “Although that dream has been cut short, we believe that right now she is rejoicing in heaven with her Savior.”

– Annie Gowen

– – –

Matthew Alexander, 32

Matthew Alexander, 32, was a longtime dispatcher at the FedEx facility who had a “big heart” and “always had a smile on his face,” Albert Ashcraft, a former FedEx driver told the Indianapolis Star.

“Everybody liked him,” Ashcraft told the newspaper. “He was always saving somebody. . . . He was always doing something.”

That included squirreling away doughnuts for his hardworking drivers if somebody brought the pastries to work while others were out on the road, Ashcraft said.

Alexander graduated from high school in the nearby suburb of Avon in 2007 and was a member of the baseball team, the school’s athletic department tweeted Saturday. He was honored at a game where some of his former teammates and family members attended.

Alexander had earlier been a student at Butler University, a private school in Indianapolis, the school said in a tweet Saturday.

Attempts to reach Alexander’s family have so far been unsuccessful.

– Annie Gowen

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