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JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA - 27 AUGUST: Pedestrians walk past a Dollar General store where three people were shot and killed the day before on 27 August 2023 in Jacksonville, Florida. Police say that the attack by a gunman on Black customers at the store is being investigated as a hate crime. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

FBI Investigating Jacksonville Dollar General Shooting as a Hate Crime, Act of Racially-Motivated Extremism

The FBI is investigating a 26 August shooting as a hate crime after a man used a swastika-emblazoned firearm to shoot and kill three Black people at a Dollar General in Jacksonville, Florida, before killing himself.

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland called the incident a “horrific act of hate,” in a statement on Sunday. He confirmed that the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) are investigating the shooting as a hate crime and an act of racially motivated 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,” Garland said. “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.”

Authorities identified the gunman as Ryan Palmeter, 21, who shot and killed Angela Michelle Carr, 52, in her car before entering the Dollar General store at approximately 1:00 p.m. on Saturday where he killed A.J. Laguerre, 19, and Jerrald Gallion, 29. Jacksonville sheriff officers responded to the scene roughly 10 minutes after the shooting began and at the same time they believe the gunman killed himself.

Before opening fire, Palmeter allegedly ordered customers who were white out of the Dollar General and did not shoot at one person inside the store who was white. As the shooting was ending, the gunman texted his father to enter his room and access his laptop where a last will and testament was located, along with more than 20 pages of racist writings. The New York Times reports that the gunman’s family then contacted the Clay County Sheriff’s Office, but the Dollar General shooting was already over.

The gunman legally purchased the firearms he used in the shooting—an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle with a swastika painted on the side and a Glock handgun—even though he had been in an involuntary commitment for a mental health examination in 2017, the Associated Press reports.

The gunman originally tried to target the historically Black Edward Waters University (EWU) at 12:45 p.m. on Saturday, putting on tactical gear in a campus parking lot. But his actions drew the attention of campus security, and Palmeter ultimately left the area.

Jacksonville Sheriff T.K. Waters told The Florida Times-Union that an EWU security officer encountered Palmeter and then flagged down a sheriff’s officer to report a suspicious man who had just left the campus. The Dollar General shooting began as the sheriff’s officer was preparing to issue an alert on the vehicle that EWU security described.

“When a person grabs a hold of a gun with hateful intentions, it’s very difficult to stop that from happening,” Waters said in a news conference.

At a vigil for victims of Saturday’s shooting, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said additional financial support will be provided to increase security at EWU—Florida’s first independent institution of higher learning and the first such institution established to educate African-Americans. Historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) have long faced a pattern of violence and intimidation in the United States.

As of publication time, EWU planned to convene a press conference at 1:00 p.m. local time with EWU President Dr. A Zachary Faison, Jr.; Chief of Campus Safety Marcus Williams; and the responding security officer who thwarted the attack to share more details about the incident. (You can view the livestream of the press conference here.)

The gunman did not have a criminal record, but Sheriff Waters called the manifestos left behind “quite frankly the diary of a madman,” The Florida Times-Union reports. “He was just completely irrational. But with his irrational thoughts, he knew what he was doing. He was 100 percent lucid.”

The shooting happened as Jacksonville residents were preparing to mark the 63rd anniversary of Ax Handle Saturday, when a mob of 200 white residents attacked a group of Black demonstrators holding a sit-in at lunch counters in Jacksonville stores. The mob used ax handles and baseball bats to harm the demonstrators, while local police failed to stop the violence and instead arrested several Black people.

Florida only reported one instance of a hate crime in 2021, the most recent year that statistics are available for. But those reported stats include information from just 8 percent of Florida's police departments, according to analysis from The Marshall Project.

Since 2021, Jacksonville has seen other demonstrations of hate. On 11 September 2022, for instance, a neo-Nazi group placed swastika flags and anti-Semitic banners along an Interstate 95 overpass. In October of the same year, an extremist group placed anti-Semitic messages around the city before a Florida-Georgia college football game.

Saturday’s shooting was a “reminder that we’re still at the same place,” said Michael Sampson, founder of the Jacksonville Community Action Committee, in an interview with the Associated Press where he recalled the shooting in Buffalo, New York, where a gunman targeted the Black community to kill 10 people while grocery shopping.

“This happened in Buffalo,” Sampson said. “You had a racist killer indiscriminately trying to kill Black people, and now this happened in Jacksonville—it happened in Jacksonville—so there’s a culture that needs to be addressed out there.”

For more on preventing teens and young adults from engaging with extremist content, check out “An Explosive Situation: Strategies to Prevent Youth Radicalization.”