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Ex-worker kills 8 at FedEx site

INDIANAPOLIS — The former employee who shot and killed eight people at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis was interviewed by FBI agents last year, after his mother called police to say that her son might commit "suicide by cop," the bureau said Friday.

Coroners began the slow process of identifying the victims as family members spent hours agonizing over word of their loved ones. The slayings Thursday night marked the latest in a string of recent mass shootings to rock the U.S.

The Marion County Coroner's office identified the dead as Matthew R. Alexander, 32; Samaria Blackwell, 19; Amarjeet Johal, 66; Jaswinder Kaur, 64; Jaswinder Singh, 68; Amarjit Sekhon, 48; Karli Smith, 19; and John Weisert, 74.

The shooter was identified as Brandon Scott Hole of Indianapolis, Deputy Police Chief Craig McCartt told a news conference. Investigators searched a home in Indianapolis associated with Hole and seized evidence, including desktop computers and other electronic media, McCartt said. The home is located in a neighborhood of midcentury houses near Interstate 465.

Hole began firing randomly at people in the parking lot of the FedEx facility late Thursday, killing four, before entering the building, fatally shooting four more people and then turning the gun on himself, McCartt said. He said the shooter apparently killed himself shortly before police entered the building. He said he did not know if Hole owned the gun legally.

"There was no confrontation with anyone that was there," he said. "There was no disturbance, there was no argument. He just appeared to randomly start shooting."

McCartt said the slayings took place in a matter of minutes, and that there were at least 100 people in the facility at the time. Many were changing shifts or were on their dinner break, he said. Several people were wounded, including five who were taken to the hospital.

Paul Keenan, special agent in charge of the FBI's Indianapolis field office, said Friday that agents questioned Hole last year after his mother called police to say that her son might commit "suicide by cop." He said the FBI was called after items were found in Hole's bedroom but he did not elaborate on what they were. He said agents found no evidence of a crime and that they did not identify Hole as espousing a racially motivated ideology. A police report obtained by The Associated Press shows that officers seized a pump-action shotgun from Hole's home after responding to the mother's call.

McCartt said Hole was a former employee of FedEx and last worked for the company in 2020. The deputy police chief said he did not know why Hole left the job or if he had ties to the workers in the facility. He said police have not yet uncovered a motive for the shooting.

Police Chief Randal Taylor noted that a "significant" number of employees at the FedEx facility are members of the Sikh community, and the Sikh Coalition later issued a statement saying it was "sad to confirm" that at least four of those killed were community members.

The coalition, which identifies itself as the largest Sikh civil rights organization in the U.S., said in the statement that it expected authorities to "conduct a full investigation — including the possibility of bias as a factor."

Varun Nikore, executive director of the AAPI Victory Alliance, a national advocacy group for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, said in a statement that the shootings marked “yet another senseless massacre that has become a daily occurrence in this country.”

Nikore added, "The senseless gun violence that we’re seeing in this country is reflective of all of the spineless politicians who are beholden to the gun lobby. Period. End of story. They will be hearing from us -- instead of offering thoughts and prayers, it’s time to mobilize for direct action and vote them out. That is what we’re doing today. We will end the violence, only when we have leaders who have the guts to do so.”

FedEx Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Frederick Smith called the shooting a "senseless act of violence."

"This is a devastating day, and words are hard to describe the emotions we all feel," he wrote in an email to employees.

The killings marked the latest in a string of recent mass shootings across the country and the third mass shooting this year in Indianapolis. Five people, including a pregnant woman, were shot and killed in the city in January, and a man was accused of killing three adults and a child before abducting his daughter during at argument at a home in March. In other states last month, eight people were fatally shot at massage businesses in the Atlanta area, and 10 died in gunfire at a supermarket in Boulder, Colorado.

Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett said the community must guard against resignation and "the assumption that this is simply how it must be and we might as well get used to it."

President Joe Biden said he had been briefed on the shooting and called gun violence "an epidemic" in the U.S.

"Too many Americans are dying every single day from gun violence. It stains our character and pierces the very soul of our nation," he said in a statement. Later, he tweeted, "We can, and must, do more to reduce gun violence and save lives."

Gov. Eric Holcomb ordered flags to be flown at half-staff until April 20.


Local
Roanoke gathering decries hate crimes, police violence

The shooting of Daunte Wright in Minnesota. The killing of a 13-year-old boy in Chicago. The pepper-spraying of an Army lieutenant in Virginia.

There is still much work to be done. That was the message Friday evening of activists who gathered around the Martin Luther King Jr. statue in Roanoke.

“We witness almost every day an act of injustice against our brothers and sisters,” said Roanoke NAACP President Brenda Hale. “We are done dying.

“Today, we ask to stop the profiling,” she said, her voice rising to a crescendo as people nodded and exclaimed, “That’s right!”

In a press conference joined by Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke, and Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke, advocates spoke of police reform, of the rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans and of the need for people of all creeds to push for change.

“I am tired of being invisible and silent,” said Uyen Tran, a William Fleming High School senior and second vice president of the Roanoke NAACP Youth Council.

“I am asking that action be taken. I am asking that if you see hatred and racism occurring, please speak out and take action against it, because our lives depend on it.”

Tran recalled both her horror at the shootings last month in Atlanta — where eight people, six of whom were of Asian descent, were fatally shot — and her anger over a police spokesman’s description of the killer’s motive as having had a “bad day.”

Growing up, she said, when she faced racism she was advised to push it aside, keep quiet, work harder. Now, she’s resolved to use her voice and fight for stronger hate crime legislation.

“It was ingrained in my culture to keep quiet. But I am not doing that anymore, and especially not today,” she said.

Hale — pointing in part to what she condemned as the despicable treatment of Lt. Caron Nazario by Windsor police officers during a December traffic stop — urged Gov. Northam to reconvene the legislature and take up proposals to end qualified immunity.

The Virginia NAACP has started an online petition pressing for a special session on the issue. The intensely debated subject was deferred for more study during the 2021 General Assembly session.

Edwards, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he wouldn’t be opposed to revisiting the matter when lawmakers return to Richmond later this year to deal with judicial appointments and budget business.

But he did not sound hopeful that any new consensus could be shaped in that short time. “We’ll see,” he said. “We’ll see.”

Ultimately, he added, action would be needed at the federal level as the qualified immunity doctrine is rooted in federal statute and court rulings.

Edwards said the state had taken historic strides forward on police reform in the past year — banning no-knock warrants, chokeholds and shooting at moving vehicles. More money is being put into training, he said, and new reporting requirements were established to track use of force.

“We have made a lot of progress,” he said. “I think others are looking to Virginia as a leader.”

London Paige, chair of the Roanoke NAACP Youth Council, spoke of the wounds created by each new national report of a hate crime, of gun violence, of a police altercation.

But the 17-year-old also said it gave her hope to see people joining together across generations and across communities to fight for a better future.

“This country requires much more work to be done,” she said. “Remember to spread kindness, promote inclusion and continue to create change.”


AP
Liberty sues Jerry Falwell Jr., seeking millions in damages
Liberty University is suing Jerry Falwell Jr. The school is seeking millions in damages after an acrimonious breakup with its former leader last year

RICHMOND, Va. — Liberty University has filed a civil lawsuit against its former leader, Jerry Falwell Jr., seeking tens of millions in damages after the two parted ways acrimoniously last year.

The complaint, filed Thursday in Lynchburg Circuit Court, alleges Falwell crafted a “well-resourced exit strategy” from his role as president and chancellor in the form of a lucrative 2019 employment agreement while withholding damaging information from the evangelical school about a personal scandal that would explode into public view the following year.

“Despite his clear duties as an executive and officer at Liberty, Falwell Jr. chose personal protection,” the lawsuit says.

It also alleges that Falwell failed to disclose and address “the issue of his personal impairment by alcohol” and has refused to fully return confidential information and other personal property belonging to Liberty.

In a statement, Falwell said the lawsuit was full of “lies and half truths” and called it an attempt to defame him and discredit his record.

“I assure you that I will defend myself against it with conviction,” he said.

Falwell’s departure from the Virginia university in August 2020 came soon after Giancarlo Granda, a younger business partner of the Falwell family, said he had a yearslong sexual relationship with Falwell’s wife, Becki Falwell, and that Jerry Falwell participated in some of the liaisons as a voyeur.

Although the Falwells acknowledged that Granda and Becki Falwell had an affair, Jerry Falwell denied any participation. The couple alleged that Granda sought to extort them by threatening to reveal the relationship.

The lawsuit says that Falwell had a “fiduciary duty to disclose Granda’s extortive actions, and to disclose the potential for serious harm to Liberty.”

Instead, Falwell “furthered the conspiracy of silence and negotiated a 2019 Employment Agreement that contained a higher salary from Liberty,” the suit says.

The lawsuit argues that Falwell and Granda’s actions have injured Liberty’s enrollment, hurt fundraising, disrupted faculty, resulted in the 2019 agreement that proved “detrimental to Liberty’s interests” and damaged the school’s reputation. Granda is not named as a defendant in the suit.

University spokesman Scott Lamb said Liberty’s “only word on the subject is the lawsuit itself.”

Before the Granda scandal exploded, Falwell had already been on leave after posting a photo on social media that sparked an uproar. It showed Falwell on a yacht with a drink in his hand and his arm around a young woman who was not his wife, their pants unzipped and his underwear exposed.

The complaint, written with a flourish, offers new details reflecting the university’s perspective on its rift with Falwell both before and after the photo scandal.

“The time for Falwell Jr. to cash in on Liberty’s prodigious success had arrived,” it says of the contract negotiations. The lengthy treatise includes subsections with titles such as “Falwell’s Auspicious Acts of August of 2020” and “Falwell Jr.’s Hard Fall,” referencing a tumble down the stairs that prompted a 911 call.

According to the lawsuit, after Falwell gave a radio interview about the yacht photo in which he offered a “slurred” explanation, Becki Falwell “stepped in.”

The lawsuit says Becki Falwell contacted three members of the executive committee of Liberty’s board to alert them to what “she described as her husband’s excessive use of alcohol.”

“Becki’s heartfelt appeal made an impact on Liberty’s leaders and helped provide a context for understanding Falwell’s questionable public comments, worrying behavior, and inappropriate social media posts,” the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit also alleges there were concerns at Liberty that Falwell “smelled of alcohol during work interactions.”

It was agreed that Falwell would go on leave and Liberty would pay for his “rehab,” but a dispute later emerged between Falwell and school leaders over the type of treatment, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges three counts: breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty and statutory conspiracy.

On the second count, the lawsuit says it seeks damages in excess of $10 million. On the conspiracy charge, it seeks $10 million in compensatory damages and argues that sum should be tripled, as allowed by state law under limited circumstances, plus $350,000 in punitive damages. Liberty is also seeking other costs and fees.

Falwell, an attorney and real estate developer, had led Liberty since the 2007 death of his televangelist father, the Rev. Jerry Falwell, who also founded the Moral Majority, making evangelicals a key force in the Republican party.

In early 2016, Falwell become one of the first conservative Christians to endorse Donald Trump for the presidency. He went on to court controversy and stay in the news, vigorously criticizing Democrats online.

In late August, shortly after Falwell’s resignation, Liberty announced that it was opening an independent investigation into Falwell’s tenure as president. The inquiry remains ongoing, and the school has not released any preliminary information from it.

Falwell sued Liberty for defamation in October, alleging the school had damaged his reputation, but dropped the case in December without explanation.


News
breaking
Roanoke to host Miss Virginia again

The Miss Virginia Competition pageant is returning to Roanoke, city and pageant officials said in a Friday news conference.

Nostalgia and venue capacity led the Miss Virginia Scholarship Organization back to Roanoke, where the event is scheduled the week of June 14 at Berglund Performing Arts Theatre, the competition’s executive director said.

The pageant left three years ago for Liberty University in Lynchburg, which hosted it for two years. It was canceled last year, due to COVID-19. Miss Virginia had spent its first 54 years in Roanoke before pageant officials, through a third party, notified the city that it was leaving.

The year off allowed the organization to re-evaluate its position and listen to its “stakeholders,” said M.C. Gravely, the Miss Virginia executive director.

“A lot of our stakeholders are women who have worn the crown,” Gravely said Friday. “There’s a lot of nostalgia [for] Roanoke. … This will be the 66th year. So it felt like a good move to come home.”

The potential audience size was important as well, Gravely said. With Gov. Ralph Northam having recently relaxed COVID-related restrictions, Berglund could hold up to 500 people, while the venue that the pageant has used at Liberty would likely have held about 330, Gravely said.

“I’ve been involved in this organization many many years, and I just know from the response that we’ve gotten from our local organizations, we’re looking forward to returning to Roanoke,” he said. “I went to stress that our parting with Liberty was … completely friendly. But this just seemed the right thing for this organization right now.”

He added: “It’s kind of like when Miss America went to Las Vegas and was there for several years, then returned to Atlantic City.”

Berglund Center General Manager Robyn Schon said in an email that the city offered the pageant a discount on its rent this year and is working with the pageant to change its production to better fit its budget “without losing any of the glitz and glamour or quality.”

The theater’s new audio system will save the pageant money on outside production equipment, and the venue is using its marketing resources to sell tickets, at no charge to the Miss Virginia team, she wrote.

Gravely, Roanoke Mayor Sherman Lea and recent competition winners gathered at a news conference outside Roanoke City Hall on Friday.

“As mayor of Roanoke, I am proud to welcome the Miss Virginia Competition back to our city,” Lea said, according to the contest’s social media posts. “Beginning in 1953, Roanoke has hosted this event over the years and it is wonderful to see it return to its rightful place.”

The Miss Virginia preliminary competition is June 17, and Miss Virginia’s Outstanding Teen 2021 will be crowned June 18. Miss Virginia 2021 will be crowned June 19 and will advance to the Miss America Competition, according to the contest’s social media accounts.

Dot Kelly, Miss Virginia 2019-20, was among those who spoke, according to the organization’s social media posts.

“When I was 13, I watched my first Miss Virginia competition and became so inspired by the incredible young women I met and watched compete,” Kelly said in the news conference. “Nothing means more to me than returning to the place that started this journey as Miss Virginia. This city, from Hotel Roanoke to Berglund Center, is where it all began, and I am honored to return home to crown the next Miss Virginia.”


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