INDIANAPOLIS — Thursday marked two years since a Subway restaurant employee was shot and killed while working at a shopping plaza near E. 75th St. and Shadeland Avenue on Indianapolis’ northeast side.

Investigators were quick to release surveillance photos of three masked, armed suspects, calling on the community to help identify them for their alleged involvement in the murder of 35-year-old Ashok Kumar, but despite all efforts, his murder remains unsolved.

IMPD said, on the evening of January 27, 2020, three suspects in black backpacks and black clothing entered the store, two of which were wearing black face masks, and a third who had on a leopard print face mask, when an altercation happened that eventually resulted in Kumar being fatally shot.

The murder sparked outcry from community members and a push for change in the area to reduce violent crime.

“There was already maybe an uneasiness in the community, I think leading up to that,” said Joe Garrison, one of the co-founders of the North Shadeland Alliance.

At the time of the shooting, this Subway location had been robbed three times in just over three years and a neighboring business owner told FOX59 his store had also been robbed twice.

“This is not an area where homicides are normal, thankfully, but that kind of freaked people out and I think just him being someone that, you know, a lot of people would frequent the Subway and him being someone that was behind the counter for several years, a lot of people at least had some sort of touch point with him so for a lot of people that made it at least a little personal,” said Garrison.

Kumar had been an employee for seven years, according to his colleagues at the time, before he was killed while working his shift. He was remembered as a hard worker, who was always nice and recognized as a friendly face in the community.

“Someone always know something that happened and can help out in that way but I mean Ashok was a good guy, a nice guy, of all accounts, just doing his job and trying to do it well,” said Garrison.

Like many others, the murder of Kumar was a pivotal point for Garrison in wanting to become even more involved in the community he was already a part of. That’s why he helped co-found the nonprofit.

One of the first major priorities of the North Shadeland Alliance was to create an IMPD substation within the North District. The space used to host the substation was donated by the property owners at the Shadeland Station Shopping Center and is fully funded by donations.

Although there were several goals behind bringing a substation to the plaza that was experiencing concerns over a rise in violent crime, a few main ones remained to increase proactive patrols in the area, while also giving officers a place to safely stop and use a restroom, heat up a meal or even write a report, rather than doing so in their vehicle, which is most often the case.

IMPD North District Captain Joshua Gisi said the substation has been a welcomed addition they’re grateful for.

“It gives us that additional presence, you know, a good place to be centrally located so we can respond as well and some of that visible presence, so that’s been a benefit too moving forward, and I guess helping the community with that and engaging in that way,” said Gisi. “That was their help to us and they gave us an opportunity then to take that up and be more present and more visible than we might have been before.”

Gisi said himself, other leadership within North District, their Community Relations Unit and beat officers make every effort to attend as many community meetings as possible to discuss solutions to violence reduction and listen to community concerns. Garrison said IMPD has always had a presence in any meeting they’ve been invited to.

Back at the plaza where the Subway and substation are both located, Garrison said the property’s owners have also taken steps to make improvements.

“They’ve done a lot with adding lighting and resurfacing some things and adding some security cameras and that type of stuff,” said Garrison.

Business owners that spoke with FOX59 off-camera on Thursday said, aside from a shooting that injured an employee at the Dollar Tree store in the same plaza 2020, they feel there has been less violent crime happening at the Shadeland Station Shopping Center that has left them feeling worried. They’re hopeful based on the progress that’s been made.

“I think we’ve made progress. It’s probably not enough, but we’ve come along way over the last couple of years with what we’ve been able to do,” said Garrison.

“Having talked to some of the tenants in the shopping center here it seems like some of the normal riffraff has disappeared over the last couple of years since the substation went in and that presence increased,” he added.

2021 a violent year for area near 75th and Shadeland

Despite efforts at the Shadeland Station plaza, outside of the immediate shopping center, 2021 proved challenging, with several homicides rocking the area near 75th and Shadeland.

The killings ranged from a shooting outside a bar that claimed two lives and injured two others to a domestic shooting that left two wounded, including an IMPD officer and a child, and left two others dead.

“Last year was obviously a record year for the city, a record year for our little corner of the town as well,” said Garrison.

“We’re paying attention to the known hotspots that we have, unfortunately like most areas in the city we’ve had a bit of that criminal activity movement from one to another,” said Gisi. “As we’re successful in one area and we build up the guardianship, then it transfers inevitably and it becomes that cat and mouse game of tracking down the newest location and what drives it.”

Some of those hotspots have been area apartment complexes, like Lake Castleton Apartments, which saw three homicides in just four months in 2021.

“At the end of the day a lot of what we’re seeing there is just transition because of people unfortunately. You know, those folks have moved from other areas and have brought with them their inability to deal with conflict, their domestic violence issues that they might have, substance abuse, mental health, so we engage across across the board. We have our Behavioral Health Units, we can engage in that area, we can get back into resources using our Community Relations Unit, whether it’s a housing issue or food or jobs, we can get into that and we continue to do that,” said Gisi.

Gisi said in looking at what drives the crime, their department works to determine whether that may be an environmental factor driving the violence or a crime contributor that’s moved into the area.

“As we get that information, it comes from the community and comes from our intelligence, our good investigative work we have, our groups we have out there, whether it’s our Violent Crime Task Force or our Violence Reduction Team, our Community Relations Unit or just our beat officers,” said Gisi.

Community groups, residents and police alike, say their focus is on engaging with the community as a whole and continuing to build relationships in hopes of moving in a positive direction.

“We’re working with the Indianapolis Ten Point Coalition to do public safety walks in the area, just to try to get to know people and meet them, kind of in their own area, and find out what’s going on, which has led to several tips that we could forward to IMPD and hopefully that helps over time,” Garrison said.

The North Shadeland Alliance does weekly walks through Lake Castleton with the Indianapolis Ten Point Coalition to help increase presence and deter crime in the complex.

“It’s something we’re hoping that will be a lot better this year, but I think whether it’s the foot patrols, or we’re looking to do some more programming inside the complexes and do more just relationship building, I think a lot of that is just when people know each other better they’re likely to hurt each other,” said Garrison.

“So that’s kind of our focus over the next year or so, is how can we build relationships and tie in the apartment complexes to the people in the neighborhoods in the local businesses and you know kind of just build a community that everybody cares about each other,” Garrison added.

Gisi said learning to resolve conflict is another major step towards reducing violent crime in the community.

“Everyone is suffering to some extent over the last few years from one thing or another so the stress is there, it’s very easy to tip people over the edge and what we see is just that,” said Gisi. “It can’t be that big of a deal. It’s not worth your life or anybody else’s.”

2022 is off to a much more encouraging start in the area near 75th and Shadeland and both police and those involved in the community hope it continues. Garrison said one more move towards positive change would be the community coming together to get justice for Kumar.

“He should’ve never had to face that he deserves his case to be closed and find out who did that and have some justice,” said Garrison.

Anyone with information on his case is asked to call IMPD’s Homicide Office or Crime Stoppers. You can do so anonymously at (317) 262-TIPS and may be eligible for a reward for any information leading to an arrest.