JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A 21-year-old white man fatally shot three Black people in Florida with guns he bought legally despite once being involuntarily committed for a mental health exam, the local sheriff said Sunday.
Ryan Palmeter shot one of his victims as she sat in her car outside a Jacksonville store; shot another just after Palmeter entered the store; and shot the third minutes later, Jacksonville’s sheriff said.
Palmeter used an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle and a Glock handgun in the shooting, Sheriff T.K. Waters said during a press conference.
Palmeter had legally purchased his guns in recent months even though he had been involuntarily committed for a mental health examination in 2017. Palmeter killed himself after killing the three victims.
Waters identified those shot in Saturday’s attack at a Dollar General as Angela Michelle Carr, 52, who was shot in her car; store employee A.J. Laguerre, 19, who was shot as he tried to flee; and customer Jerrald Gallion, 29, who was shot as he entered the store, which is in a predominantly Black neighborhood.
Palmeter lived with his parents in neighboring Clay County, texted his father during the shooting, and told him to break into his room, Waters said. The father then found a suicide note, a will, and writings that Waters has described as racist.
Waters said the guns were purchased in April and in June, with the dealers following all the laws and procedures, including background checks. Because Palmeter was released after his mental health examination, that would have not shown up on his background checks.
“Therein lies the difficulty. When a person grabs a hold of a gun with hateful intentions, it is very difficult to stop that from happening,” the sheriff said.
On Saturday shortly before 1 p.m., Palmeter parked at Edward Waters University, an historically Black college less than a mile from the Dollar General. The sheriff said he posted a TikTok video of himself donning a bullet-resistant vest and gloves. It was about this time that a university security guard spotted Palmeter and parked near him. He said it appears that Palmeter did not intend to attack the school.
“He had an opportunity to do violence at (Edward Waters) and did not. There were people in very close proximity,” the sheriff said.
Palmeter drove off and the security guard flagged down a Jacksonville sheriff’s officer who was about to send out an alert to other officers when the shooting began at the store.
The sheriff said Palmeter, wearing his vest covered by a shirt, gloves and a mask, first stopped in front of Carr’s vehicle and fired 11 shots with his rifle through her windshield, killing her.
He entered the store and turned to his right, shooting Laguerre, video shows. Numerous people fled through the back door, the sheriff said. He chased after them and fired, but missed. He went back inside the store and found Gallion entering the front door with his girlfriend. He fatally shot Gallion.
He then chased a woman through the store and fired, but missed.
About a minute later, Palmeter entered the store’s office and texted his father, telling him to use a screwdriver to break into his room. There, his father found a suicide note and a will. On his computer, writings that the sheriff has described as racist were found addressed to his family, federal law enforcement and the media.
“The manifesto is, quite frankly, the diary of a mad man,” Waters said. “He was just completely irrational. But with irrational thoughts, he knew what he was doing. He was 100% lucid.”
Eleven minutes after the shooting began, and as police entered the store, Palmeter killed himself.
Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement on Sunday that the Justice Department was “investigating this attack as a hate crime and an act of racially motivated violent extremism.”
“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,” he said.
Earlier Sunday, the pastor of a church near the site of the shooting told congregants to follow Jesus Christ’s example and keep their sadness from turning to rage.
The latest in a long history of American racist killings was at the forefront of services at St. Paul AME Church, about 3 miles from the crime scene. Jacksonville Mayor Donna Deegan wept during the service, while other attendees focused on Florida’s political rhetoric and said it has fueled such racist attacks.
“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.”
Deegan cried as she addressed the congregation.
“I’ve heard some people say that some of the rhetoric that we hear doesn’t really represent what’s in people’s hearts, it’s just the game. It’s just the political game,” Deegan said. “Those three people who lost their lives, that’s not a game.”
The choir sang “Amazing Grace” before ministers said prayers for the victims’ families and the broader community. From the pews, congregants with heads bowed answered with “amen.”
Elected officials said racist attacks like Saturday’s have been encouraged by political rhetoric targeting “wokeness” and policies from the Republican-led state government headed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, including one taking aim at the teaching of Black history in Florida.
“We must be clear, it was not just racially motivated, it was racist violence that has been perpetuated by rhetoric and policies designed to attack Black people, period,” said state Rep. Angie Nixon, a Jacksonville Democrat.
“We cannot sit idly by as our history is being erased, as our lives are being devalued, as wokeness is being attacked,” Nixon said. “Because let’s be clear — that is red meat to a base of voters.”
DeSantis, who returned to Florida on Sunday from Iowa, where he was campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination, said Floridians “condemn the horrific racially motivated murders perpetrated by a deranged scumbag.”
“Perpetrating violence of this kind is unacceptable, and targeting people due to their race has no place in the state of Florida,” DeSantis said at a press conference in Tallahassee. He said he promised the university’s president that the state will make sure the school will have adequate security.
Rudolph McKissick, a national board member of the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, Baptist bishop, and senior pastor of the Bethel Church in Jacksonville, was in the city on Saturday when the shooting occurred in the historically Black New Town neighborhood
“Nobody is having honest, candid conversations about the presence of racism,” McKissick said.
Past shootings targeting Black Americans include one at a Buffalo, New York, supermarket in 2022 and a historic African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015.
The Buffalo shooting, which killed 10 people, stands apart as one of the deadliest targeted attacks on Black people by a lone white gunman in U.S. history. The shooter was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The Jacksonville shooting came a day before the 63rd anniversary of the city’s notorious “Ax Handle Saturday,” when 200 Ku Klux Klan members attacked Black protesters conducting a peaceful sit-in against Jim Crow laws banning them from white-owned stores and restaurants.
The police stood by until a Black street gang arrived to fight the Klansmen, who were armed with bats and ax handles. Only Black people were arrested.
AP writers John Raoux in Jacksonville, Terry Spencer in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Trisha Ahmed in St. Paul, Minnesota, and Mike Balsamo in Washington contributed to this report.