INDIANAPOLIS — One year has passed since a deadly mass shooting at a FedEx Ground facility in Indianapolis, but for the families of victims and survivors, many say it feels like just yesterday.
Eight victims, whose ages ranged from 19 to 74 years old, were killed in the shooting, and at least five others were wounded when a former employee came on the grounds and opened fire before turning the gun on himself. Four of the victims who lost their lives were members of the Sikh community.
“On this solemn day, our hearts are with the families and friends of those whose loved ones were taken in this act of violence,” said Harpreet Singh, Sikh Coalition co-interim executive director.
The victims killed in the shooting were Karli Smith, 19, Samaria Blackwell, 19, Matthew “Matt” R. Alexander, 32, Amarjit Sekhon, 48, Jasvinder Kaur, 50, Amarjeet Kaur Johal, 66, Jaswinder Singh, 68, and John “Steve” Weisert, 74.
If you ask families impacted how they’re doing a year later, you’ll likely learn there is no playbook when it comes to grieving or healing. It looks different for every person.
For the families of Alexander, Weisert and survivor Angela Hughley, they tell CBS4 they’ve leaned heavily on their faith since they received that unimaginable call.
Remembering Matthew “Matt” R. Alexander
When family and friends are asked to share what Matt was like, their answers all fall along the same lines. He was easygoing, kind, caring, had a heart of gold. He would have done anything to help another person.
“I truly think that if you were down and out, he’d give you his last dollar,” said Debbie Alexander, Matt’s mother.
Their family has learned a lot in the last year about the quiet acts of kindness that Matt did for others. Those stories help them find comfort in the good their son left behind.
One moment in particular has stuck with the Alexander family this last year. On the night of the viewing during services for Matt, his parents said a man came in within the last five minutes before it concluded.
“Debbie said, “whereabouts are you from around here? He says, well I’m not from around here, I’m from Dallas, Texas,” said Matt’s father, Brad Alexander.
The man told Matt’s parents that he’d never met their son, but that Matt was his contact when he would dispatch for trucks in Dallas. He said he spoke with Matt on the phone once or twice a week.
He told Matt’s parents he drove more than 900 miles nonstop from Dallas to pay his respects.
“It’s very meaningful,” Brad added.
Debbie said while this last year has been difficult for her family, they have chosen to celebrate, honor and cherish Matt’s life in their everyday.
“It was the ending of Matt’s story, but not looking at that in a negative way, looking at it in as a positive, saying he did fulfill his purpose here on earth,” said Matt’s sister, Michelle Alexander.
Matt, a dispatcher at FedEx, loved baseball, golf and sports in general, especially the Buffalo Bills and the St. Louis Cardinals. Ozzie Smith was Matt’s all-time favorite player, his family said.
He was a big fan of craft beer, celebrating his favorite holiday, which was Christmas, and he treasured his family, friends and colleagues.
“His friends called him their glue guy because he was just always there for them,” said Debbie.
Brad said he was also the glue of their family. He joked that Matt had a keen sense of direction, and when they would go on vacation, they would trust him to lead the way because he always seemed to know where it was they needed to go.
Matt, an Avon High School and Butler University graduate whose friends and coworkers nicknamed “Zander” and “Mr. Automatic,” celebrated a milestone his family said he was so proud of.
“He just bought his first house here in Avon a couple years ago and was so very proud of the house. He had been looking for two years,” said Brad.
Brad, Debbie and Michelle said they are incredibly proud of the accomplishments Matt celebrated.
“I thank God every day for choosing me to be Matt’s mom and giving me 32 precious years with him,” said Debbie. “Not long enough in my eyes, but I do think he fulfilled his purpose on this earth, and I really do think he did a good job.”
In his honor, the Matt Alexander Memorial Baseball Fund was established. His family said this year the first recipient of it will be awarded. As they share his story, Matt’s family said they are encouraging young baseball players and other athletes to “live a good story” like Matt did.
“We just try to celebrate him in everything that we do just to keep his memory alive,” Debbie said.
On the anniversary of the tragedy, Matt’s family is honoring his life by going to the Indianapolis Zoo, one of his favorite places, his favorite restaurant in Broad Ripple and spending the day Saturday with 25 of his friends, who they said have been grieving his loss this last year, while also working to keep his legacy moving forward.
“For everyone out there that has family, let them know you love them. Give them a hug that day, and just let them know you love them because you never know. It might be the last time you see them. If I could just have Matt back for one minute to give him a hug and let him know I love him, I would love that,” said Debbie.
“Live each moment to the fullest because no one knows when your story’s going to end here on earth,” Brad added.
Remembering John “Steve” Weisert
As Mary Carol Weisert reflects on the one-year anniversary of her husband’s passing, she still finds it hard to believe he’s gone.
“I just had been with him for so long, he was just like a fabric of my being. It was just hard to believe that we will never see him again,” said Carol.
The pair would have celebrated their 50th anniversary in November, seven months after the shooting.
Steve, a retired engineer and Air Force veteran who was trying to earn a little extra money, was the oldest victim killed in the shooting. His wife said he had a quirky sense of humor and loved Pink Floyd.
“I never got used to that sense of humor. His dad was kind of funny like that,” said Carol.
Carol said her husband was brilliant and witty but introverted unless you got him to talking about a topic he was especially passionate about.
“If he was very passionate about something, you could get him to talk, but normally he was very quiet. It was like squeezing him to say something,” she added.
The couple volunteered with their church once a month and fed individuals facing homelessness. Carol said her husband loved to help others and enjoyed volunteering.
“You wonder how stuff like this happens. Why us? Why this?”
Those are questions Carol isn’t sure she’ll ever have a clear answer to. She said this year has been a test of her strength, but her faith has helped guide her path. For members of her family, the process of grieving has looked different for everyone, and it hasn’t been an easy road.
“For a long time, I didn’t think I could survive this. I thought I was just gonna crack,” Carol said.
She holds on to hope by remembering the decades of memories she made with her beloved husband. She laughs when she thinks about how he told her he noticed her before the couple started dating prior to their marriage.
“He said even before that, he’d seen me in a choir on campus that we were both in, and I said that’s funny you saw me, but I didn’t notice you,” she said.
Carol reminisced on the front porch of her home, surrounded by love-filled photos of the couple, of their trips they took together and laughs they shared during those. She said they loved to go to festivals, particularly the Covered Bridge Festival.
Carol wasn’t sure how she would spend the day Friday. Perhaps it would be by attending her husband’s favorite church service.
“This week I’ve just been kind of overwhelmed by so many things I needed to take care of,” she said.
Whatever it looks like, Carol said she will honor the love of her life she misses every day.
Remembering Samaria Blackwell
Loved ones said 19-year-old Samaria Blackwell was the baby of her family and looked up to her siblings.
“Samaria was tenacious in everything she did, from playing basketball and soccer to being a lifeguard for Indy Parks,” said Jeff and Tammi Blackwell.
Her parents said on the court or the soccer field, Samaria always had a tough game face, but it quickly turned to a smile outside of the competition.
“Samaria loved people, especially those of advanced age. She always found time to invest in the older generation, whether it was by listening or serving,” said her parents.
Her family released a statement calling her a straight A student with a love for people and a passion to serve.
“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. Although that dream has been cut short, we believe that right now she is rejoicing in heaven with her Savior,” her parents shared.
In her honor, the Central Indiana Police Foundation launched a scholarship fund in Samaria’s name. Two $500 scholarships will be given to Indiana residents studying criminal justice at an Indiana-approved college.
One childhood friend said living life as Samaria would is the best way to honor her.
“The way we can keep remembering her life is to unapologetically be ourselves, love everyone the way that she had loved us and just live life the way she would have wanted us to,” said Elliana Jones.
Remembering Amarjeet Kaur Johal
Amarjeet Johal, age 66, was a member of the Sikh community killed in the shooting.
Gary Johal, the youngest son of Amarjeet, said his mother was “the world” to her family. He spoke about her impact earlier this week during a news conference.
“She was one of the strongest pillars of the family that brought the whole family together,” Johal said of his mother.
“The most selfless person you could ever meet. I guess if you wanted me to compare her to someone, she was the most selfless person you could ever meet that can be compared to God. If you know what God is like, then you know what my mother is like,” he added.
Johal said he’s still processing her loss, calling it “one of the biggest devastations” for the family.
Amarjeet’s granddaughter, Komal Chohan, shared a statement about what this loss has meant to her family.
“Our community has known much pain for many years because of how we look and who we are. If that is why my Naniji (grandmother) was senselessly murdered, I will never know,” Chohan wrote.
“But I do know that she was a hardworking woman all of her life whose only hope was to see her family succeed. I hope that everyone will honor her life and each of the lives lost in this tragedy, and reflect on how we as a society can do better to prevent something like this from ever happening again,” she added.
Remembering Karli Smith
Family said Karli Smith, 19, only started working at the FedEx ground facility about two weeks before the shooting.
Karli’s mother, Karen Smith, said her daughter picked up her first paycheck but never had a chance to cash it.
“Oh gosh, she’s super missed. It’s a little crazy that you don’t realize how much somebody impacts your life until they’re no longer in it,” Karen shared with CBS4 during a previous interview.
Karen said Karli always entered a room with a smile on her face and focused on lifting others up.
“She was like a little mother hen,” said Karen. “She was amazing. She was super smart and super caring. She loved everybody. She just had that infectious smile.”
According to her mother, Karli loved softball and was a talented athlete with a big heart. She always wanted to help other young girls express their talents even if their families didn’t have the funds to help them do so.
Karli was a student in the Indianapolis Public Schools district, attending School 46 and Crispus Attucks before graduating from Washington High School. A statement from the IPS district called her a hardworking and dedicated student.
Matthew D. Alexander, the father of Karli Smith who also shares a name with one of the victims but is unrelated, called the loss of his daughter “extremely traumatic” for the entire family.
“It’s an ongoing process for me to try to comprehend because no one should have to bury their child,” Alexander said during a press conference earlier this week.
Remembering Jaswinder Singh
Jaswinder Singh was 68 years old. He was a father and a grandfather, his loved ones told CBS4.
Like several of the other victims killed, Singh had just started working at the FedEx facility. He was on the job less than a week.
“That day this happened, he was going to get his first paycheck. He was so excited,” Harjap Dhillon, a relative of Singh, told CBS4 in an earlier interview.
Dhillon tells us Singh loved taking walks and being around his family, including his two grandsons.
“He was very nice guy, gentle guy,” said Dhillon.
Dhillon said Singh always started and ended his day with a prayer. After the tragedy, his family was left praying for peace.
Remembering Jasvinder Kaur
Jasvinder Kaur, 50, was related to Amarjit Sekhon, also killed in the shooting.
Her family told CBS4 at a vigil that she came to the United States to work and create a better life for her family.
Rimpi Girn described her aunt as a hardworking person who meant no harm to anyone.
Remembering Amarjit Sekhon
Amarjit Sekhon, 48, was another member of the Sikh community who lost her life in the shooting.
Sekhon was related to 50-year-old Jasvinder Kaur, who was also killed.
Those who knew Sekhon say she loved her family and devoted her life to them. They say she was working at FedEx to support her two sons, as well as her husband, who is disabled.
Her family said she enjoyed showing her love through cooking.
Survivor speaks on recovery and healing 1 year later
It wasn’t just those who lost a loved one who are forever impacted but also survivors like Angela Hughley and their families.
“All the way around, whether we survived or someone was lost, everybody lost. We all lost. We lost stuff we can never get back,” Hughley said. “You can just be doing what you’re supposed to be doing, and something tragic can happen to you.”
Hughley, a mother of five, had just arrived at the FedEx Ground Facility to begin her shift when she was approached in the parking lot by the shooter, who fired into her car.
She said she put her car in drive and “zoomed past him,” but at that point she knew she had been hit. Her car was riddled with bullet holes. Hughley made it to the other side of the parking lot.
Images from the night come and go, but Hughley said she lives with physical, emotional and traumatic impacts every day.
“I’m very cautious now. I need to know who, what, when, where, why. I’m constantly looking around my surroundings,” Hughley shared.
Still, she counts her blessings and said she is grateful to have another chance to be here for her five boys. This year, life showed her new purpose.
“I’ve gained me a grandson that has brought joy to my life, and he was brought on Christmas Day, so I know that God kept me here for a reason,” said Hughley.
Every time she looks at her grandson, Keion, Hughley said it helps give her the strength to keep pushing forward.
“I try to live every day like it’s my last. I enjoy my kids when I can. I enjoy my g-baby, that’s what brings me joy. My brother, my sister, my immediate family, that’s what brings me joy,” she shared.
On the night of the shooting, as she was waiting on the phone for a dispatcher, Hughley said her 19-year-old son, who also works at FedEx, arrived to help keep her calm. It was the two people who arrived next that helped save her life.
“I just thank them for being there. They was put there for a reason,” said Hughley.
She’s talking about Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department Patrolman Skip Copeland and officer Jason Niewedde, who used a tourniquet-like bandage to help begin medical care before an ambulance arrived. Hughley said they were her advocates and voice in the chaotic moments that followed.
In an emotional reunion after the shooting, Hughley and the officers had a chance to embrace each other. It was a moment of healing for all involved.
As she reflects on everything, Hughley said she is reminded of how precious life is. She hopes people will honor the victims who didn’t make it home to their families and work to make sure their legacies are never forgotten.
“Just celebrate life. It’s a precious gift, and you need to cherish it,” said Hughley.