JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A white man wearing a mask and carrying a gun painted with a swastika killed three Black people inside a Dollar General store on Saturday in what authorities described as a racially motivated attack in a predominantly African-American neighborhood.
Jacksonville Sheriff T.K. Waters said the attack was racially motivated by the shooter, identified as Ryan Christopher Palmeter, 21, who entered the store shortly after 1 p.m. and opened fire. The gunman, who wore a tactical vest while carrying an “AR-style” rifle and a handgun bearing a swastika, targeted two men and a woman.
The suspect then shot and killed himself at the store. Although others were fired upon inside and outside the store, Waters said no one else was injured in the attack.
“He hated Black people,” Waters said after reviewing racist writings the gunman had left for his family, federal law enforcement and at least one media outlet.
The shooting occurred at a Dollar General store in New Town, a predominantly Black neighborhood of Jacksonville, Florida. The store is also near Edward Waters University, a small historically Black university with about 1,000 students.
“This is a dark day in Jacksonville’s history. There is no place for hate in this community,” the sheriff said. “I am sickened by this cowardly shooter’s personal ideology.”
Shooting occurred near historically Black university
On Saturday, Edwards Waters University issued a “safety alert” on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, notifying students and staff that a fatal shooting had occurred off-campus. After the shooting, the university was placed on lockdown for several hours.
The university said in a statement that shortly before the shooting took place, a campus security officer saw the suspect near the school’s library and asked him to identify himself. When the suspect refused to do so, he was asked to leave and returned to his vehicle.
Waters said the suspect was seen putting on a tactical vest and a mask before leaving. He added that it is unknown if he had originally planned to attack the school.
“I can’t tell you what his mindset was while he was there, but he did go there,” the sheriff said.
The university said no students and faculty were involved in the incident.
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Gov. DeSantis jeered as Jacksonville community calls for action
Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis — who is running for the GOP nomination for president, who has loosened gun laws in Florida, and who has antagonized civil rights leaders by deriding “wokeness ” — was loudly booed as he addressed a vigil for the three Black people killed Saturday.
DeSantis promised aid to the victims’ families and to Edward Waters University, the state’s oldest historically Black college, where the gunman first stopped to change before going to the store. His office would announce details Monday morning, he told the crowd.
“You are not going to target HBCUs and get away with it,” DeSantis said. “We’re going to hold you accountable. We’re not going to let it happen.”
DeSantis faced criticism from the crowd, as groups booed him immediately upon taking the microphone. Jacksonville City Council member Ju’Coby Pittman, who organized the vigil, stepped in to tell the crowd to let him speak.
“If the governor wanted to come here, and he’s bringing gifts, you all know I’m taking the gifts,” Pittman said. “Because we’ve been through enough already, and I don’t want to go through no more.”
Involved in 2016 domestic violence incident
Palmeter had driven to Jacksonville from neighboring Clay County, where he lived with his parents, according to Waters. Authorities believe that he committed the shooting because it was the fifth anniversary of another Jacksonville incident where a man opened fire during a video game tournament, killing two people before fatally shooting himself.
Around the time of the attack, Palmeter had texted his father and told him to check his computer. There, his father found racist writings, a suicide note and will. The writings, according to Waters, clearly showed that the suspect hated Black people.
The family alerted authorities but the shooting had already begun, Waters said. Palmeter used a Glock handgun and an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle that were purchased legally earlier this year.
The sheriff added that the gunman acted alone and “there is absolutely no evidence the shooter is part of any larger group.”
According to Waters, the suspect had also been involved in a 2016 domestic violence incident that did not lead to an arrest. Palmeter was involuntarily committed for a 72-hour mental health examination the following year.
Who were the victims?
Police identified the victims as 52-year-old Angela Michelle Carr, 19-year-old Anolt Joseph “A.J.” Laguerre Jr., and 29-year-old Jarrald De’Shawn Gallion.
Waters added the investigation remains ongoing and that the FBI was assisting the sheriff’s office. The incident is also being investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice.
“No person in this country should have to live in fear of hate-fueled violence and no family should have to grieve the loss of a loved one to bigotry and hate,” Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said in a statement. “One of the Justice Department’s first priorities upon its founding in 1870 was to bring to justice white supremacists who used violence to terrorize Black Americans. That remains our urgent charge today.”
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Hundreds mourn racist killings
Hundreds of people gathered Sunday at prayer vigils and in church, in frustration and exhaustion, to mourn the racist attack. Ju’Coby Pittman, a Jacksonville city councilwoman who represents the neighborhood where the shooting happened, stepped in to ask the crowd to listen.
“It ain’t about parties today,” she said. “A bullet don’t know a party.”
Gallion attended St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Bishop John Guns told the crowd. He was the 33rd murder victim in the 27 years Guns has been there, he said.
“In two weeks I have to preach a funeral of a man who should still be alive,” Guns said. “He was not a gangster, he was not a thug — he was a father who gave his life to Jesus and was trying to get it together. I wept in church today like a baby because my heart is tired. We are exhausted.”
Earlier Sunday, the pastor of St. Paul AME Church near the site of the shooting told congregants to follow Jesus Christ’s example and keep their sadness from turning to rage.
Jacksonville Mayor Donna Deegan wept during the service. “Our hearts are broken,” the Rev. Willie Barnes told about 100 congregants. “If any of you are like me, I’m fighting trying to not be angry.”
Latest attack on Black Americans
The incident follows past shootings targeting Black Americans, such as the Buffalo, New York, supermarket shooting in 2022, and the Charleston, South Carolina, church shooting in 2015.
The shooting also happened one day before the 63rd anniversary of one of Jacksonville’s most notorious racially motivated incidents, “Ax Handle Saturday,” where 200 members of the Ku Klux Klan attacked a group of Black protestors engaging in a sit-in at a city park to protest the Jim Crow laws.
Contributing: The Associated Press