Jacksonville gunman in racially motivated attack legally bought two weapons earlier this year, sheriff says | CNN

Jacksonville gunman in racially motivated attack legally bought two weapons earlier this year, sheriff says | CNN



CNN
 — 

The White gunman who killed three Black people in a racially motivated attack at a Dollar General store in Jacksonville, Florida, on Saturday legally purchased the two firearms he used in the shooting earlier this year, Jacksonville Sheriff T.K. Waters said in a news conference Sunday.

The gunman, identified as 21-year-old Ryan Christopher Palmeter, bought a handgun in April and an AR-15-style rifle in June, the sheriff said. He lived with his parents in nearby Orange Park and had no criminal arrest history, although he had been temporarily involuntarily held under the Baker Act in 2017, the sheriff said.

“In this situation, there was nothing illegal about him owning the firearms,” he said.

The news conference came a day after Palmeter fatally shot three Black people at the Dollar General store in what authorities say was an anti-Black hate crime. Attorney General Merrick Garland said the Justice Department is investigating the shooting as a hate crime and an act of racially motivated violent extremism.

Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office

Ryan Christopher Palmeter, 21, was identified as the gunman in the shooting.

The gunman used racial slurs, left behind a racist screed and drew swastikas on his firearm, authorities said. He was armed with an AR-15-style rifle and a handgun and was wearing a tactical vest and blue latex gloves, the sheriff said.

The victims were identified as Angela Michelle Carr, 52; Anolt Joseph “AJ” Laguerre Jr., 19; and Jerrald Gallion, 29.

Sabrina Rozier, a relative of Gallion, described him as a fun, loving young man. He left behind a 4-year-old daughter, Rozier told CNN.

“It’s hurtful, I thought racism was behind us and evidently it’s not,” she said Sunday at a vigil for the victims.

Prior to the shooting, the gunman had been turned away from the campus of a nearby historically Black university, Edward Waters University. There, he refused to identify himself to an on-campus security officer and was asked to leave, the university stated in a news release.

“The individual returned to their car and left campus without incident. The encounter was reported to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office by EWU security,” the school said.

The shooting came five years to the day of a mass shooting in downtown Jacksonville at a Madden video game tournament. The attack also coincided with the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington, the iconic civil rights demonstration that called on the government to better protect the rights of Black people.

The attack was one of several shootings reported in the US over two days, including one near a parade in Massachusetts and another at a high school football game in Oklahoma, underscoring the everyday presence of gun violence in American life.

There have been at least 470 mass shootings in the US so far in 2023, according to the Gun Violence Archive, which, like CNN, defines a mass shooting as one in which four or more people are wounded or killed, not including the shooter. It is almost two mass shootings for each day of the year so far.

The attack in Florida is the latest in a number of shootings in recent years where a gunman has targeted Black people, including at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, last year and a historically Black church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015.

“I did a terrible thing that day. I shot and killed people because they were Black,” the Buffalo shooter said in court as he was sentenced to life in prison. “Looking back now, I can’t believe I actually did it. I believed what I read online and acted out of hate.”

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Sheriff Waters provided a minute-by-minute timeline of the attack on Saturday.

The shooter left his home in Clay County around 11:39 a.m. and headed to Jacksonville in neighboring Duval County, Waters told CNN.

At 12:48 p.m., the suspect headed to New Town, a predominately Black area of Jacksonville, and stopped at Edward Waters University in a gray Honda, donning a bulletproof vest. The sheriff said a TikTok video was also taken around this time showing him getting dressed.

University police backed into a parking spot in the same lot as the suspect, and the suspect left at 12:57 p.m., the sheriff said. University police followed him out of the lot and flagged down a sheriff’s officer, saying there was a suspicious person on campus, the sheriff said.

At 1:08 p.m., at the Dollar General parking lot, the gunman shot into a black Kia and killed Carr, the sheriff said. He then entered the store and fatally shot Laguerre, the sheriff said.

Others fled out the rear exit of the store, and the suspect exited the same door before returning inside. The gunman then fatally shot Gallion, who had just walked into the store, and chased after and shot at Gallion’s fleeing girlfriend, the sheriff said.

WJXT

Law enforcement on the scene of the shooting in Jacksonville, Florida, on Saturday.

At 1:18 p.m., the gunman texted his father and told him to go into his room, where the father found a will and a suicide note, the sheriff said. Officers entered the store a minute later – 11 minutes from the start of the shooting – and heard one gunshot, which is presumed to be when the gunman shot and killed himself, the sheriff said.

The suspect’s father called the Clay County Sheriff’s Office at 1:53 p.m., the sheriff said.

The attack clearly targeted Black people, Waters said. The suspect used racial slurs and left behind writings to his parents, the media and federal agents outlining his “disgusting ideology of hate,” the sheriff told reporters.

“This shooting was racially motivated, and he hated Black people,” Waters said on Saturday.

Authorities also played two short video clips of the shooting. One clip shows the shooter pointing his weapon at a black Kia car outside the store, and the other shows the shooter walking into the store and pointing his rifle to his right.

“I wanted the people to be able to see exactly what happened in this situation and just how sickening it is,” Waters said.

The shooter did not appear to know the victims and it is believed he acted alone, he said.

“This is a dark day in Jacksonville’s history,” the sheriff said. “Any loss of life is tragic, but the hate that motivated the shooter’s killing spree adds an additional layer of heartbreak.”

Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office

The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office released a photo of a firearm used in the shooting, left, and a close-up, right, which shows several swastikas drawn on it.

Photos of the weapons the gunman had were shown by authorities, including one firearm with swastikas drawn on it.

“The suspect’s family, they didn’t do this. They’re not responsible for this. This is his decision, his decision alone,” the sheriff later told CNN.

The shooter was the subject of a 2017 law enforcement call under the state’s Baker Act, which allows people to be involuntarily detained and subject to an examination for up to 72 hours during a mental health crisis.

Waters did not provide details on what led to the Baker Act call in that case but said normally a person who has been detained under the act is not eligible to purchase firearms.

“If there is a Baker Act situation, they’re prohibited from getting guns,” he told CNN Saturday. “We don’t know if that Baker Act was recorded properly, whether it was considered a full Baker Act.”

Later, on Sunday, the sheriff said investigators found the guns appeared to be obtained legally.

The shooter’s writings indicated he was aware of a mass shooting at a Jacksonville gaming event where two people were killed exactly five years earlier, and may have chosen the date of his attack to coincide with the anniversary, Jacksonville Mayor Donna Deegan said.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis spoke at a vigil Sunday evening for the victims.

“We are not going to let people be targeted based on their race,” DeSantis said. He added his office has identified state funds to help the community and nearby Edward Waters University.

“You are not going to target HBCUs in the state of Florida and get away with it,” the governor said. “We’re going to hold you accountable.”

Deegan spoke at the vigil about unity.

“The division has to stop, the hate has to stop, the rhetoric has to stop,” Deegan said.

The Jacksonville branch of the NAACP issued a statement saying it stands in solidarity with the families affected.

“It is deeply disheartening that our black communities live in constant fear of being targeted based on the color of their skin, unable to shop at their local store without the threat of violence,” the branch said.

President Joe Biden noted the tragic symbolism of the shooting on the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington.

“[T]his day of remembrance and commemoration ended with yet another American community wounded by an act of gun violence, reportedly fueled by hate-filled animus and carried out with two firearms,” Biden said in a written statement.

“Even as we continue searching for answers, we must say clearly and forcefully that white supremacy has no place in America. We must refuse to live in a country where Black families going to the store or Black students going to school live in fear of being gunned down because of the color of their skin.”

The northwest Jacksonville community shaken by Saturday’s violence is processing the loss, according to Florida State Sen. Tracie Davis, who represents the area of Jacksonville where the shooting happened.

“I’m angry, I’m sad to realize we are in 2023 and as a Black person we are still hunted, because that’s what that was,” Davis told CNN. “That was someone planning and executing three people.”

Pastor Willie Barnes led a Sunday service at the nearby Saint Paul A.M.E. Church. He said students at Edward Waters University who witnessed the gunman on campus were in attendance.

The focus now is turning the community’s pain into healing, he said.

“I hope that the world pays attention to how strong we are,” Barnes said, “and how we’re going to come back better than we are now.”

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