The gunman who opened fire at a FedEx site in Indianapolis, killing eight workers, then himself, was a 19-year-old former employee with a history of mental illness that led to his detention by law enforcement last year, police and FBI officials said on Friday.
Four members of the Sikh religion – three women and a man – were among the dead in Thursday night's gun rampage, according to a local leader of the Sikh community who said he had been briefed by the victims' families.
Law enforcement officials said they had not immediately determined whether racial or ethnic hatred was behind the killings.
The incident – the latest in a spate of at least seven deadly mass shootings in the United States over the past month – unfolded at a FedEx operations center near Indianapolis International Airport after 11 p.m. local time, police said.
It lasted only a couple of minutes and was over by the time police responded to the scene, Craig McCartt, the Indianapolis police department's deputy chief, told a news briefing on Friday.
Witnesses described a chaotic attack, as the gunman opened fire with a rifle in the parking lot before entering the facility and continuing to shoot, leaving victims both inside and outside the building. Officers found the suspect dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.
A FedEx spokeswoman and police identified the gunman as Brandon Hole, a former employee at the facility. McCartt told reporters the suspect was believed to have last worked at the plant in the fall of 2020.
Asked what brought him back to the facility on Thursday night, McCartt replied: "I wish I could answer that."
'Suicide by Cop'
The FBI said the suspect had been placed under a temporary mental health detention by Indianapolis police in March 2020 after his mother contacted law enforcement to report he might try to commit "suicide by cop."
A shotgun was seized from his residence then, and based on "items observed in the suspect's bedroom at that time," he was interviewed by the FBI in April 2020, FBI Indianapolis Special Agent in Charge Paul Keenan said in a statement.
"No racially motivated violent extremism ideology" was identified during that assessment, and no criminal violation was found, but the shotgun was not returned to the suspect, Keenan said.
The massacre is the most recent in a series of US mass shootings that has again pushed the issue of gun violence to the political foreground.
Indianapolis – the capital of the Midwestern state of Indiana – alone has seen two mass shootings this year. In January, police say a teenager shot and killed four family members and a pregnant woman.
Thursday's gun violence at the FedEx center was the second mass shooting in recent weeks targeting workplaces employing a high concentration of people of Asian descent.
None of the victims in Indianapolis have been formally identified. But Sikhs, whose religion originated in the Punjab region of the Indian subcontinent, accounted for four of those killed and at least one wounded, according to Gurinder Singh Khalsa, a businessman and leader of the local Sikh community.
Singh Khalsa said the majority of employees at the FedEx site are Sikh.
The New York-based Sikh Coalition, which describes itself as the largest Sikh civil rights organization in the United States, said it expected authorities to "conduct a full investigation — including the possibility of bias as a factor."
The coalition's executive director, Satjeet Kaur, said more than 8,000 Sikh-Americans live in Indiana.
The recent surge in US mass shootings began on March 16 when a gunman shot eight people to death, including six Asian woman, at three Atlanta-area day spas before he was arrested.
That rampage heightened tensions already brewing over a rise in hate crimes and discrimination directed at Asian Americans in recent years, stoked in part by racially inflammatory rhetoric about the coronavirus pandemic's origins in China.
'Stains Our Character'
Reacting to the latest tragedy, US President Joe Biden ordered flags lowered to half staff and reiterated his call for Congress to pass tougher gun restrictions.
"Too many Americans are dying every single day from gun violence," he said. "It stains our character and pierces the very soul of our nation."
Earlier this month, Biden announced limited measures to tackle gun violence that included a crackdown on self-assembled "ghost guns." But more stringent measures face an uphill battle in a divided Congress, where Republican lawmakers have long opposed any new gun limits.
There have been 147 mass shootings in 2021, defined as incidents in which at least four people were shot, according to the Gun Violence Archive, a non-profit website that tracks firearm-related incidents.
Friday also marked the 14th anniversary of the deadliest school shooting in US history at Virginia Tech, which saw 32 people killed.
Indianapolis FedEx employee Olivia Sui told Reuters via text message that she and some co-workers had just left the building after picking up their paychecks and were sitting in a car in the parking lot when shots rang out.
"That's when I looked around and saw the gunman with a rifle, run into the building," followed by more gunfire, she said. "I panicked and started reversing from the parking lot as fast as I could," she said.
Another FedEx employee, Levi Miller, told NBC's "Today Show" he ducked out of sight when he saw a hooded figure holding what appeared to be an AR-style semiautomatic rifle who shouted and opened fire outside the facility.
Five people were taken to hospitals with gunshot wounds, including one in critical condition, police said. Two more were treated at the facility and released.
As employees' relatives, friends and colleagues gathered at a nearby hotel afterward, some expressed frustration at being unable to reach workers at the site, where company policy bars many employees from having mobile phones to avoid distractions.
In a message to staff, FedEx Chief Executive Officer Frederick Smith said all eight killed were employees.
"I want to express my deepest sympathies to the families, friends, and co-workers of those team members," said Smith, who added that the company is cooperating with investigators.