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Gunman in Indianapolis FedEx shooting used two legally purchased assault rifles, police say

Mourners and firearm safety advocates bow their heads at a prayer vigil Saturday at Olivet Missionary Baptist Church in Indianapolis. The vigil was held in the wake of the mass shooting at a FedEx facility Thursday. (Jon Cherry/Getty Images)
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INDIANAPOLIS — The 19-year-old gunman who fatally shot eight people at a FedEx plant Thursday used two legally purchased assault rifles, police said Saturday, raising new questions as many call for tighter restrictions on powerful firearms and more safeguards on who can own them.

Police said the shooter, a former employee at the facility, bought rifles legally last July and September — months after his mother said she feared her son would attempt “suicide by cop.” That led authorities to question Brandon Hole, temporarily detain him for mental health reasons and seize his shotgun. The gun was not returned, officials say.

Yet Hole went on to obtain more firearms, despite Indiana’s red-flag law aimed at keeping such weapons out of the hands of potentially dangerous people. Under that law, a measure adopted and debated in many states, officials can confiscate someone’s weapon and then argue to a judge that the person should be prevented for some time from having a gun. Indianapolis police said Saturday night that they cannot say why Hole was not barred from purchasing the weapons under red-flag laws or whether authorities had pursued it.

The attack Hole carried out Thursday night — the sixth mass shooting in the United States in the past five weeks — has anguished communities that are again calling for action to stop such violent assaults, which have targeted offices, stores, places of worship, movie theaters, nightclubs, colleges and grade schools.

“We have to act against gun violence,” said Rupal Thanawala, president of the Asian American Alliance in Indianapolis. “I cannot say why this happened, but these people will not come back. Everyone should have the right to feel safe at work, at school, at houses of worship. But, people don’t have that anymore.”

President Biden said he is still urging Congress to pass gun control legislation on April 16 following a mass shooting at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Reuters/The Washington Post)

The victims of Thursday’s shooting ranged in age from 19 to 74, including a recent high school graduate with basketball talent and a 68-year-old Indian immigrant who loved long walks around his neighborhood. Four members of the Sikh community were killed. The massacre also hospitalized at least five people, with one in critical condition, according to the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department.

When mass shootings target a marginalized group, trauma ripples through those communities

On Saturday, officials released no new details about Hole’s motive. The gunman, who last worked at the FedEx plant in 2020, was found dead at the crime scene by police Thursday with what appeared to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Hole was known to law enforcement: Last spring, according to a brief statement released Friday by the FBI, his mother called police with fears of “suicide by cop,” and Hole was interviewed after items of an undisclosed nature were found in his bedroom. But authorities have released few details about that investigation.

Police would not say Saturday where Hole bought the rifles he used in his attack.

The Marion County prosecutor’s office did not immediately respond to questions about whether authorities sought to use the red-flag law against Hole.

Under Indiana’s red-flag measure, authorities have two weeks after seizing a gun to go before a judge. But a red-flag case can stretch months as the person who lost the firearm makes their own case, Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears told a local news station last February. During that time, the person can buy another gun — a “loophole” that Mears urged lawmakers to fix.

“There is nothing preventing a person from purchasing, using or borrowing a firearm from someone else while their case is pending,” Mears told Fox 59 last year. “The law only applies to the dangerous firearm the person had access to when the officer interacted with them.”

A person who knew Hole said he had suffered from mental illness and said he did not get the treatment he needed.

“I feel really bad for the eight families that lost loved ones,” said a man who identified himself as a family friend who spoke in an interview with The Washington Post on the condition of anonymity because he does not want to be the family’s spokesperson. “Should have never happened at all. I do know that they did try to get him help, and they couldn’t.”

In a statement released Saturday, Hole’s family said, “we are devastated at the loss of life caused as a result of Brandon’s actions; through the love of his family, we tried to get him the help he needed.

“Our sincerest and most heartfelt apologies go out to the victims of this senseless tragedy. We are so sorry for the pain and hurt being felt by their families and the entire Indianapolis community,” the statement reads.

No one answered the door at Hole’s home Saturday. A “no trespassing” sign was on the front door.

Authorities may need time to piece together a “psychological autopsy” of the gunman, said Christopher Ferguson, a Stetson University professor of psychology who is an expert on mass shootings.

He said a common feature in many mass shootings is that the perpetrator has an untreated or undiagnosed mental illness and is an “injustice collector” who blames some group, or society generally, for all that has gone wrong in the person’s life.

“Other people are screwing them over. Society is evil. Society is hurtful. They are emotionally crushed by their relationship with society, and they’re very angry about it. So they want to die, but they want to bring other people with them,” Ferguson said.

The massacre has recharged the political debate about gun laws, with President Biden calling for a ban on military-style semiautomatic rifles and limits on ammunition cartridges. Some local leaders demanded new laws to keep weapons out of the hands of people known to pose a public threat.

Indianapolis City-County Council member Ali Brown (D) renewed a call Saturday for lawmakers to ban military-style assault weapons.

“We’re all shook to our core and we all feel the need to have something change,” she told a local TV station, WISH. “This country has a problem, and it was exhibited here in Indianapolis on Thursday night and pretty much every other day in Indianapolis.”

Shootings never stopped during the pandemic: 2020 was the deadliest gun violence year in decades

Early Saturday afternoon, DeAndra Yates, 38, who founded an anti-violence group in 2015 after her 13-year-old son Deandre was shot and injured, organized a prayer vigil in a church parking lot. “I know prayer vigils seem cliche now, but as a believer, I think prayer is our greatest weapon,” she said.

Another event organizer, Cathy Weinmann of the group Moms Demand Action, said she plans to send a letter to the governor demanding action: “’Thoughts and prayers’ aren’t working,” she said.

An evening vigil brought even more calls for reform — and weariness.

“I have to be honest, I've been asking myself the same question since Thursday,” Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett (D) told a crowd of roughly 200 people. “Oh, loving God, what more can we take?”

Eight candles were lit, the first one by Ryenne Beaty, a 19-year-old friend of victim Samaria Blackwell, also 19. After the shooting, she said, she waited 16 hours hoping her best friend of a decade would turn up safe.

Blackwell was “selfless,” she said.

Michelle Parksey, 37, and Savana Delao, 20, were both supposed to be at work at the FedEx when the shooting occurred.

“I was on my way to work when I saw 20 cops fly be me, and for some reason I just knew they were going to FedEx,” Parksey said. “I was late, because I spent 40 minutes in the drive-through at Fazoli’s, which I was mad about, but they ended up saving my life. I would have been in the parking lot when he was shooting at cars.”

The single mom of three teenage sons said she’s thankful for every moment that she now has with her sons.

“If I would have gone to work that night, I wouldn’t have come home to my babies,” she said. “I’m all they have.”

They don’t know when employees will be able to return to work. Delao said she’s not sure she’ll be emotionally ready when the time comes. “I can just imagine in my head walking in there, and knowing bodies were laying there on the ground,” Delao said.

Delao knew Blackwell from work and said her smile and energy could light up a room.

“For someone that young to die, it’s just not fair,” Delao said. “I can’t understand it.”

Just days before the shooting, Parksey trained another victim, Karli Smith, 19, who was about to receive her first paycheck.

“She was awesome, it’s just heartbreaking,” Parksey said.

Achenbach and Beachum reported from Washington. Meryl Kornfield in Indianapolis and Timothy Bella, Alice Crites, Hannah Knowles, Fenit Nirappil and Julie Tate in Washington contributed to this report.