Suspect identified in racially motivated killing at Jacksonville Dollar General store: Sheriff
Neighbors and classmates say suspect was "awkward."
The suspected gunman alleged to have fatally shot three Black people and terrified others in a "racially motivated" rampage at a Jacksonville, Florida, store, was identified by officials Sunday as a 21-year-old white man who left behind a last will and testament and writings that read like "the diary of a madman" full of hate.
The suspect, identified as Ryan Christopher Palmeter, died by apparent suicide after unleashing a barrage of gunfire with an AR-15-style weapon he purchased legally and used to kill Black shoppers at a Dollar General store on Saturday afternoon, Jacksonville County Sheriff T.K. Waters said at a news conference Sunday.
Waters said the massacre at the store lasted a little over 11 minutes and was captured on a surveillance camera. The sheriff played a brief clip from the security footage showing the man he identified as Palmeter shooting at a black Kia 11 times outside the store, killing his first victim seated inside the vehicle, identified as Angela Michelle Carr, 52, before storming through the front sliding glass doors and gunning down victims at random.
The sheriff identified the other victims killed in the shooting as 19-year-old Anolt Joseph "AJ" Laguerre Jr. and 29-year-old Jerrald De'Shaun Gallion.
Waters said that for some unexplained reason, the suspect allowed other patrons, both white and Black, to leave the store.
"It was clear his crimes were motivated by wanting to shoot Black people," Waters said in an interview on ABC's "Good Morning America" earlier Sunday.
'The diary of a madman'
Waters said that after killing his last victim, Gallion, Palmeter texted his father from inside the store, instructing him to use a screwdriver to get into his bedroom. The father, according to Waters, discovered his son's last will and testament and a suicide note on his laptop.
The alleged assailant's writings were discovered in physical form "on his person," sources told ABC News. Investigators have not found a substantial social media footprint left by the suspect, but are continuing to search, according to the sources. Investigators also searched the suspect's home in the Jacksonville suburb of Orange Park in Clay County, officials said.
Waters described the suspect's writings seized in the investigation as "the diary of a madman," with paragraph after paragraph full of offensive and hateful language, including racial slurs. He said the writings were "completely irrational."
"Our community is grappling with why this atrocity occurred. I urge us all not to look for sense in a senseless act of violence," Waters said during Sunday's news conference. "There's no reason or explanation that will ever account for the shooter's decisions and actions. His sickening ideology is not representative of the values of this Jacksonville community that we all love so much."
The shooting at the Dollar General store in the predominantly Black New Town neighborhood northwest of downtown Jacksonville occurred after the suspect was confronted at Edward Waters University, a historically Black Christian college in Jacksonville by a school security officer, Waters said.
TikTok video of suspect donning bulletproof vest
The sheriff said the security officer saw Palmeter in a parking lot behind the university's library at 12:48 p.m. on Saturday wearing a bulletproof vest and chased his tan vehicle out of the parking lot. He said the security officer flagged down a police officer to inform him of the suspicious person on campus wearing a gray tank top, black shorts, a bulletproof vest and blue latex gloves.
Waters said the police officer who was flagged down was preparing to send out a notice for officers to be on the lookout for the suspicious man when the shooting occurred at the Dollar General store.
The sheriff said investigators later discovered a TikTok video of the suspect at the college putting on his bulletproof tactical vest.
He said detectives are still attempting to learn why the suspect went to Edward Waters University, but the preliminary investigation indicates he went there to change.
After leaving the school, the suspect apparently drove directly to the Dollar General store and opened fire at 1:08 p.m.
The sheriff said that during the store rampage, the suspect chased patrons out a rear door firing at them but missing, before reentering the store to exact more carnage. He said at one point, the suspect fired shots at a security camera but missed.
He said Gallion was killed less than three minutes after he entered the store with his girlfriend as the rampage was unfolding.
Waters said that when officers entered the store just after 1:19 p.m., they heard a single gunshot.
"We believe that's when he killed himself," Waters said at the news conference.
He said a SWAT team found the suspect's body at 3:44 p.m.
Alleged gunman had no criminal history
Palmeter, according to investigators, lived with his parents in Orange Park, about 20 miles southwest of Jacksonville.
"To our knowledge, he had no criminal arrest history," Waters said.
The sheriff added that the suspect was voluntarily committed to a hospital in July 2017 under Florida's Baker Act and held for a 72-hour mental examination following a domestic violence incident and released without further voluntary commitment.
Waters also said the suspect legally purchased two guns this year, buying a Glock 20 10 mm semiautomatic handgun from the Orange Park Gun & Pawn shop on May 6 and an AR-15-type semiautomatic rifle from the Wild West Guns and Shop in Jacksonville on June 22.
"There were no flags that could have showed up that would have prevented him from purchasing those guns," Waters said, adding that the suspect was only 15 when he was committed for a mental evaluation under the Baker Act in 2017.
He said the gun shops correctly followed all procedures in the transactions.
Owners of the gun stores could not immediately be reached for comment.
Palmeter was once enrolled in Flagler College in nearby St. Augustine.
"He previously attended Flagler College between Fall 2020 through Spring 2021, when he withdrew from the College," Flagler College Director of External and Government Relations Beth Sweeny told ABC News.
Neighbors and former classmates who knew Palmeter say he was “awkward” and kept to himself.
Shooter referenced prior Jacksonville mass shooting
Saturday's shooting happened five years to the day when a 24-year-old gunman killed two people and wounded 12 others at a 2018 Madden 19 e-games tournament in Jacksonville.
In his writings, Palmeter referenced the e-games tournament attack, Jacksonville Mayor Donna Deegan told reporters on Saturday.
"Yesterday in Jacksonville, Florida, three people were killed in a horrific act of hate. In the wake of the mass shooting, FBI and ATF agents responded to the scene and are continuing to work closely with local law enforcement on the ground," U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement Sunday. "The Justice Department is investigating this attack as a hate crime and an act of racially-motivated violent extremism. The entire Justice Department extends its deepest condolences to the loved ones of the victims and to the Jacksonville community as they mourn an unimaginable loss."
The FBI confirmed on Saturday that it is assisting in the investigation of Saturday's attack.
In March, the FBI released data showing that hate crimes in the United States spiked by 35% in 2021. The bureau recorded a total of 10,840 hate crime incidents in 2021, up from 8,052 in 2020.
On May 14, 2022, a self-professed 18-year-old white supremacist wearing body armor and wielding an AR-15-style weapon fatally shot 10 Black people at a Tops supermarket in Buffalo, New York, and wounded three others. The gunman, Payton Gendron, pleaded guilty to 15 state charges in all, including domestic terrorism motivated by hate, murder and attempted murder. He was sentenced in February to life in prison without the possibility of parole and could still face the death penalty in a federal case against him.
During his sentencing hearing, Gendron claimed he was brainwashed by white supremacist propaganda he consumed on the internet, saying in court, "I believed what I read online and acted out of hate, and now I can't take it back."
White supremacist propaganda, including the mass distribution of flyers containing hateful language and images, projections on buildings and in-person gatherings, reached a record high in the United States in 2022, according to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). The organization's yearly assessment of propaganda activity found 6,751 incidents in 2022, the highest number since the ADL began tracking such incidents in 2017. This total includes racist, antisemitic, or anti-LGBTQ content and efforts.
The count represented a 38% increase over the previous year, according to the ADL.
Saturday's shooting occurred as the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington, a prominent moment in the Civil Rights Movement, was being marked in Washington, D.C. The Rev. Al Sharpton, a national civil rights leader, condemned the shooting in a statement Sunday, saying the suspect "decided to open fire at a Dollar General while we were marching against hate in Washington."
"Nineteen buses came here from Florida ... including one from Jacksonville, and while these Floridians were still on the road there was a killing in their home state," said Sharpton, who was to address the shooting in a sermon he was scheduled to give at Howard University in Washington, D.C., on Sunday. "I am reminded of the Birmingham bombing, which came just a few weeks after the 1963 March on Washington."
On Sunday, Dollar General issued a statement.
"The DG family mourns the loss of our colleague Anolt Joseph 'AJ' Laguerre, Jr., who, along with two of our customers, were the victims of senseless violence yesterday. We extend our deepest sympathies to their families and friends as we all try to comprehend this tragedy," the statement began.
"There is no place for hate at Dollar General or in the communities we serve.
"Right now, we are focused on providing support, counseling and resources to our teams and their loved ones, and we are evaluating how we can best support and stand with the greater Jacksonville community during this sad and difficult time," the company's statement concluded.
ABC News' Meredith Deliso, Victoria Arancio, Peter Charalambous, Matt Foster, Thomas Giusto, Sara Avery and Jared Kofsky contributed to this report.