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FBI says FedEx shooting not a hate crime; Indianapolis Sikhs still want answers

“It’s certainly difficult for anyone in this position ... to consider that an investigation can be closed without knowing the answer to why this happened,” one Sikh advocate said.
Image: Sikh community in Indianapolis, vigil
Family, friends and community members attend a vigil in Indianapolis on April 18 to remember the victims of a mass shooting at a FedEx facility.Jeff Dean / AFP - Getty Images

The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department and the FBI announced Wednesday that the gunman who killed eight people, including four Sikh Americans, at an Indianapolis FedEx facility in April was not motivated by hate or bias. But Sikh leaders are questioning the decision.

“The shooter chose a place known for hiring people of color, specifically a Punjabi Sikh-majority, for his attack,” Amrith Kaur, legal director of the Sikh Coalition, a U.S. Sikh civil rights organization, said in a statement. “We don’t know why he chose this location, but we now know the attack was planned at least nine months in advance.”

The shooter targeted a facility where a majority of workers were Sikh Americans. The FBI said gunman Brandon Scott Hole, who killed himself after the shooting, was also found to have World War II, Nazi and white supremacist content on his computer, but it wasn’t cause for concern and the investigation is closed.

“The shooter did not appear to have been motivated by bias or a desire to advance an ideology,” Paul Keenan, the Indianapolis FBI special agent in charge, said during Wednesday's news conference.

Sikh community members in Indianapolis want to know how law enforcement came to that conclusion.

“It’s certainly difficult for anyone in this position — the survivors, the family, members of the Sikh community in general — to consider that an investigation can be closed without knowing the answer to why this happened,” Aasees Kaur, senior legal client manager at the Sikh Coalition, told NBC Asian America. “There’s still compelling reasons to consider bias as a motivator.”

Investigators said they concluded there was no hate motive after examining around 175,000 of the shooter’s computer files and interviewing upward of 100 people. Keenan also said toxic masculinity and mental health issues were both at the root of the attack.

But for Sikh Americans, it feels like a clear racial prejudice is being swept under the rug.

“None of these elements are mutually exclusive,” Aasees Kaur said.

“It is important to recognize that bias can be a factor in addition to these other issues,” Amrith Kaur said in her statement. “We still believe that the IMPD and FBI could have provided more information about how and why they ruled bias out, and been far more forthcoming and transparent about relevant details during this press conference and throughout the course of their investigation.”

Aasees Kaur, who met with families and survivors in Indianapolis Wednesday, said those left behind are still grieving.

“It feels very fresh still,” she said. “The trauma is very real and very much there. Their journey of healing and recovery is going to be a long one.”

The April shooting reopened conversations about a history of discrimination and violence that many Sikh Americans feel has often gone unseen.

“It’s a double invisibility that they receive,” Nikky-Guninder Kaur Singh, chair of the department of religious studies at Colby College, told NBC Asian America in April. “We have very warped notions of the Sikhs.”

Aasees Kaur said there’s no real justice for the victims or the families, but law enforcement should have been more transparent in getting them the answers they deserve.

“Even though law enforcement said the investigation is over,” she said, “for the families who lost loved ones, for the survivors who are still in the process of their physical recovery, these questions will remain forever.”