INDIANAPOLIS (Reuters) -- The 19-year-old gunman who opened fire at a FedEx site in Indianapolis, killing eight workers before taking his own life, was a 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, April 16.
The incident -- the latest in a spate of mass shootings in the United States -- unfolded at a FedEx operations center near Indianapolis International Airport in Indiana after 11 p.m. local time on Thursday night, police said.
It lasted only a couple of minutes and was already over by the time police responded to the scene, Craig McCartt, the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department's deputy chief, told a news briefing Friday.
Witnesses described a chaotic attack, as the gunman opened fire in the parking lot before entering the facility and continuing to shoot, leaving victims both inside and outside the building.
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."
The FBI said in a statement that 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."
Officers found Hole dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.
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 the 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 U.S. mass shootings that has again pushed the issue of gun violence to the political foreground.
Indianapolis 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.
Although none of the victims in Indianapolis have been formally identified, members of the Sikh community, whose religion originated in the Punjab region of the Indian subcontinent, were among the dead and wounded, according to a New York-based advocacy group called the Sikh Coalition.
Separately, an Indianapolis Star reporter wrote on Twitter that the city's police chief was told by the Sikh community that the majority of employees at the FedEx site are Sikh.
The 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.
President Joe Biden, in a statement, said he had ordered flags lowered and reiterated his call for Congress to pass 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. We can, and must, do more to act and to save lives."
Later on Friday, Biden said U.S. firearms deaths are a "national embarrassment" and called on Congress to ban military-style "assault" firearms.
"This has to end. It's a national embarrassment," Biden said at a White House press conference alongside Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.
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.
Nearly 20,000 Americans died last year as a result of gun violence, not including suicide - 25% higher than in 2019, and more than in any other year in at least two decades, according to figures compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Eight people were shot to death at three day spas in the Atlanta area in mid-March, raising fears that the gunman had targeted Asian Americans amid a rise in hate crimes. Days later, a gunman killed 10 people at a Colorado grocery store.
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 U.S. history at Virginia Tech, which saw 32 people killed.
"Last night, Indianapolis was revisited by the scourge of gun violence that has killed far too many in our community and our country," Mayor Joe Hogsett said at the briefing.
A FedEx employee, Levi Miller, told NBC's "Today Show" he saw a "hooded figure" holding what appeared to be an AR-style semi-automatic rifle who shouted and opened fire outside the facility.
"I thought he saw me, and so I immediately ducked for cover," he said.
Another worker at the air freight facility told local television station WRTV that he was eating when he heard what sounded like "two loud metal clangs" followed by more shots.
"Somebody went behind their car to the trunk and then got another gun," he said. "Then I saw one body on the floor."
Five people were taken to hospitals with gunshot wounds, including one in critical condition, police said. Two more were treated at the facility itself by medical staff and released.
Hours after the shooting, employees' family members, friends and colleagues gathered at a 'family unification center' that authorities set up at a nearby hotel. Some relatives expressed frustration that they were unable to reach workers at the site, where many employees are barred from having their mobile phones by a company policy intended to avoid distractions.
In a message to staff, FedEx Chief Executive Officer Frederick Smith said that the eight victims were all employees.
"First and foremost, 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.