Joti Kaur Rekhi: A Loving Grandmother Amongst Sikh Victims Of Indianapolis Shooting

Amarjeet Johal, whom Komal Chohan described as a maternal figure to everyone in her family, was supposed to be celebrating one of her grandchildren’s birthdays, but she did not make it home

Joti Kaur Rekhi
April 16, 2021 | 3.5 min. read

Eight people, four of whom are Sikh, were killed after a 19-year-old white male went on a shooting spree at his former place of employment in Indianapolis late Thursday night.

The victims of the mass shooting at the FedEx facility, which is predominantly employed by Punjabis and Sikhs, were identified by investigators Friday evening as:

  • 32-year-old Matthew R Alexander

  • 19-year-old Samaria Blackwell

  • 66-year-old Amarjeet Johal

  • 64-year-old Jaswinder Kaur

  • 68-year-old Jaswinder Singh

  • 48-year-old Amarjit Sekhon

  • 19-year-old Karli Smith

  • 74-year-old John Weisert

Several others are injured. Police also are not releasing the names of additional victims.

Indianapolis Metropolitan Police (IMPD) said Brandon Hole, who worked at the facility last year, shot four of the victims outside of the building and four inside. He then turned the gun on himself.

The mass shooting happened during shift change and dinner break for many. According to IMPD, at least 100 people were in the building at the time.

One of the workers was Komal Chohan’s grandmother, Amarjeet Johal. Johal was getting ready to leave work when the unthinkable happened.

“When they went to identify her body, she had her paycheck in her hand. She was ready to go,” said Chohan.

Amarjeet Johal, whom Chohan described as a maternal figure to everyone in her family, was supposed to be celebrating one of her grandchildren’s birthdays, but she did not make it home.

The two had seen each other before Amarjeet Johal went into work Friday. They were eagerly talking about Chohan's roka (engagement ceremony) which is scheduled for Saturday.

“She was so excited. She was going to have the day off tomorrow,” said Chohan. “I feel like she’s just going to come like she was supposed to.”

Chohan, who has several family members and friends that work at the facility, recalled what those excruciating hours were like just waiting to hear from investigators. She is still coming to terms with the tragic events and has not learned the status of many loved ones.

“It’s so hard. This is reality. This is something that really happened,” said Chohan. “People should have their safe places. Work should be a safe place. You shouldn’t ever have to fear losing your life at work.”

According to police, Hole was armed with a rifle. They said the rampage was over within minutes. There was no confrontation as Hole quickly got out of his car and began shooting.  

Chohan's uncle, also an employee at the FedEx facility, was working at the time.

“A man who was two people in front of him was shot and died. Then my [uncle] also dropped to the floor and he saw a couple other [men with turbans] drop to the floor, but at that moment he didn’t know if they dropped to the floor because they were hiding or because they got hit.”

Police have not released any details about a motive; however, members of the Sikh and Punjabi community are calling it a targeted act of violence and domestic terrorism.

The Sikh Coalition released a statement on the mass shooting which reads in part:

 “While we don’t yet know the motive of the shooter, he targeted a facility known to be heavily populated by Sikh employees, and the attack is traumatic for our community as we continue to face senseless violence. Further traumatizing is the reality that many of these community members, like Sikhs we have worked with in the past, will eventually have to return to the place where their lives were almost taken from them.”

Chohan said her grandmother overcame many challenges in her life. She, like many Sikhs, fled India after the 1984 Sikh Genocide.

“They fled being persecuted because of who they are. It’s why most of them left India. They wanted better lives for themselves. They come here and end up in similar situations. It’s just terrible,” said Chohan.

Chohan said one of the other victims, Jaswinder Singh, began working at FedEx just one week ago after recently arriving from India. Her grandmother often helped translate for co-workers like Singh who did not fluently speak English.

Despite the many hardships associated with immigrating to a new country, Johal was resilient and always worked hard.

“She didn’t need to work. She just did it because she wanted to buy things for her grandkids. She didn’t need this job. She didn’t need to be there. She didn’t need to work [especially during the pandemic], but she chose to,” said Chohan.

Chohan described her grandmother as a woman of few words. When she spoke in her soft-spoken voice, she would shower those around her with words of love. Her mere presence would light up a room.

That is why Chohan decided to use her voice to speak up now.

“I was vocal right away because I didn’t want her to just be a statistic. I think when we read about mass shootings no one is tuning in to the stories behind these people. They just end up being victims of a mass shooting. No one really ends up paying attention to their stories,” said Chohan. “They’re not just numbers. These are pillars of our community. She’s a grandmother. She’s a great grandmother. She deserved so much more than this.”

Correction: Komal's last name is Chohan, and not Johal. We apologize for this error.

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Joti Kaur recently obtained her MSc in International Public Policy from UCL in London. Her research focused on the disappearances and extrajudicial executions that occurred in Punjab following the Sikh Genocide of 1984. Prior to returning to school, she worked as a local television reporter for five years. Advocating for others has always been at the core of her work. She remains a voice for the voiceless. You can find Joti on Twitter at @ThisIsJoti.


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