Brandon Smith, 21, stood just below the steps at Monument Circle in Indianapolis April 18 with a megaphone in his hand, his voice shaking and his eyes filled with tears. Surrounded by family, friends and strangers, Smith told the story of his “baby sister,” Karli Smith.
Smith described Karli as “the glue that holds the family together.” He said she was always so happy and could make everyone smile, even if they were having the worst day.
That’s what made the April 15 mass shooting at the Indianapolis FedEx facility so much harder for Brandon Smith and the rest of his family.
Karli Smith was one of the eight victims who were shot and killed.
A prayer vigil was held at 2 p.m. April 18 at Monument Circle in Indianapolis to mourn those who died from the shooting.
Brandon Smith called for mental health reform, particularly because he believes the mental health care and police systems in place failed the shooter’s family. Police identified Brandon Hole the day after the shooting, and his family released a statement saying his mother tried to get help for her son a year prior to the April 15 event.
“All of us here — we’re grieving somebody. We all know somebody who was affected,” Smith said. “And now, because somebody couldn’t get help for their son, here we are.”
Smith said he was still in shock over his sister’s death, and his heart goes out to all the families who are also hurting.
“For it to not just be close to home — but at home — is a shocking experience,” Smith said.
Ball State senior public communications major and Indianapolis native Taylor Hall helped organize the vigil.
“I just hate that we only come together as a community when tragedies happen,” Hall said. “This is not what I want us to get together for, but I’m happy we can come together in solidarity, and support each other and uplift one another.”
Hall said she never realized how much these events affect people until it directly impacted her. She knew Karli Smith from their days playing basketball together at Crispus Attucks High School.
“It’s just crazy,” Hall said. “When you know someone so vividly [and] you see something happen in your community, then, you realize that was someone you knew and that was someone you talked to every day.”
When Hall saw the news of the shooting, she remembered she had friends who worked at FedEx, but Smith didn’t immediately cross her mind.
“I saw her picture, and I realized I knew her,” Hall said. “I went to school with her every day, I played basketball with her … I mentored her.”
Not only were the two teammates, but Hall also helped Smith and her friends with school. When Smith decided she didn’t want to play basketball anymore, she was still encouraged to be part of the basketball “family” as a manager, riding the bus to each of the games and creating memories with the team.
“I’m glad we’re all together during this time because, if I was alone, I would probably lose my mind just thinking about it and thinking about everything that’s been going on,” Hall said.
As Hall shared her stories of Smith, her voice continuously grew louder, and her eyes welled up with tears. Smith’s family sat behind her, surrounded by flowers given in memory of their loved one, listening as Hall used her memories of Smith to inspire change.
“It’s like we can’t get a break,” Hall said. “We’re in a pandemic. We’re dealing with police brutality, dealing with terrorism. We’re dealing with hate crimes. So, now more than ever, we need to come together.”
Hall organized the vigil with help from Tyshara Loynes, 21. Loynes works for the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus in Indianapolis, an organization that works to improve minority communities throughout the state.
Loynes helped Hall organize the event after the two protested last week in honor of Daunte Wright, who died April 10 after he was shot by a Minnesota police officer, and decided they needed to do something for the victims of the FedEx shooting as well.
Loynes said they made sure to reach out to the victims’ families to be “respectful to everybody’s beliefs and their rights and not [speak] for them.”
Rep. Andre Carson from Indiana’s 7th Congressional district, who Hall interns with, told the victims’ families he was on their side and his office was going to try to do whatever it could to reform gun laws and prevent another mass shooting.
“Today should let you know that we are one community, we are one family, we are one America and we are one humanity,” Carson said. “All of the people here are concerned citizens who are standing with [the families] every day.”
Four of the eight victims were members of the Indianapolis Sikh community, and their families and friends are calling for a hate crime investigation. Friends and family members came forward, sharing memories of their loved ones and trying to ignite change.
Vigil attendee Gurpreet Balaggan lost two of his aunts in the shooting and spoke on behalf of his family.
“It’s really hard,” Balaggan said. “I have no words that can describe what the family is going through, but seeing everyone here together — it gives us a little hope. We know we’re not alone.”
Balaggan said most of the victims were working at FedEx to provide for their families and give them a better life, but, unfortunately, they couldn’t see it come to fruition.
“Let’s come together, let’s pray, let’s bring change, let’s end hate, let’s act as humans first,” Balaggan said. “We need you to all come together, learn to live together and love each other.”
Member of the Sikh community Maninder Sinjh Walia, 57, also spoke and asked the crowd why there was such a divide between the Indianapolis and Sikh communities “if we’re all Americans.”
Walia began chanting to the crowd “enough is enough” and “the change has to come now” because of the treatment of immigrants in the United States.
“We stand together, we stand high [and] we stand with all of you,” Walia said.
FedEx employee Octavio Carrillo, 21, attended the prayer vigil and said employees have not heard anything from the company about what to do after the shooting.
Carrillo said he works the day shift and had April 16 off, but his girlfriend works the night shift at FedEx. He picked her up after her shift ended at 10:30 p.m., and the two left about 10 minutes before the shooting started, he said.
“When we got home, that’s when we found out about it,” Carrillo said. “It kind of put us in shock because I can’t imagine how [the families] feel — like feeling how we could have been a victim or a witness.”
Carrillo said he didn’t know any of the victims personally but is still grieving because he doesn’t wish the pain the families are going through on anybody.
“Nobody deserves this,” Carrillo said. “Nobody deserves to lose a loved one. Nobody deserves to lose their own life.”