Jacksonville, Florida — A masked white man shot and killed three black people Saturday inside a Dollar General store in a predominantly African-American neighborhood of Jacksonville, Fla., using a swastika painted on it, officials said. gun. The gunman also posted racist articles before killing himself.
Jacksonville Sheriff TK Waters said at a news conference that the attack that left the two men and one woman dead was absolutely “racially motivated.”
“He hates black people,” Waters said after reviewing the man’s writings, which were sent to federal law enforcement officials and at least one media outlet shortly before the attack. He added that the shooter acted alone and “there is absolutely no evidence that the shooter was part of any larger group.”
The shooter, who was in his 20s, used a Glock pistol and an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, at least one of which had a swastika painted on it, Waters said. He was wearing a bulletproof vest. He said the shooter had been involved in a 2016 domestic violence incident and had been involuntarily committed to a mental hospital for examination. He provided no further details about the incidents.
Officials did not immediately release the names of the victims or the shooter.
The sheriff said the gunman left evidence in his writings leading investigators to believe he carried out the shooting after another gunman opened fire at a video game tournament in Jacksonville this year, killing two people. The fifth anniversary of the fatal shooting.
The shooting happened around 2 p.m. at a Dollar General about three-quarters of a mile from Edward Waters University, a small historically black college.
The university said in a statement that a security guard saw the man near the campus library shortly before the shooting and asked him to identify him. When he refused, he was asked to leave. The man returned to his car.
Sheriff Waters said the man spotted him putting on a vest and mask before leaving. He said it was unclear whether he had originally planned to attack the school.
“I can’t tell you what state of mind he was in when he was there, but he did go there,” the sheriff said.
Edward Waters students were locked in their dormitory for hours after the shooting. The school said no students or teachers were believed to be involved.
The sheriff said the gunman drove from neighboring Clay County to Jacksonville, where he lives with his parents. The house was being searched late Saturday.
Shortly before the attack, the gunman sent his father a text message asking him to check his computer. The father found the writing and the family notified 911, but the shooting had already begun, Sheriff Waters said.
“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 the personal ideology of this cowardly shooter.” He said the investigation would continue. The FBI is assisting the sheriff’s office and said it has opened a hate crime investigation.
Mayor Donna Deegan said she was “heartbroken”.
“This is a community that suffers over and over again. A lot of times, that’s where we end up,” Deegan said. “This kind of thing should not and should not continue to happen in our community.”
Gov. Ron DeSantis called the shooter a “scumbag” and denounced his racist motives after a phone call with the sheriff.
“This guy committed suicide instead of facing the music and taking responsibility for his actions. He took a cowardly way out,” said DeSantis, who is running for the Republican presidential nomination in Iowa.
Both President Joe Biden and Attorney General Merrick Garland were briefed on the shooting, officials said.
Dollar General’s corporate office said in a statement: “We are heartbroken by the senseless act of violence at our Kings Road store in Jacksonville, Florida today. At this time, support for our Jacksonville employees and those affected by this tragedy Impacting the DG family is a no-brainer.” Our top priority as we work closely with law enforcement. “
Virginia Bradford lived near the store, surrounded by modest brick and cinderblock houses. She often shops at Dollar General and said she had planned to go there on Saturday to buy detergent and bleach, but other plans got in the way.
“That’s my store,” Bradford told reporters, looking past the patrol cars blocking the street and the police cars with their lights flashing to the store a block away. “I know everyone in the store. It’s sad.”
Bradford, who is black, is upset by the racist killings and says she doubts she will go back.
“I wouldn’t even send my kids there anymore,” she said. “My nerves are bad.”
Penny Jones said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press that until a few months ago, she worked at the store a few blocks from her home.
“I’m just waiting to hear from colleagues I used to work with,” Jones said. “I don’t know if it’s safe to walk around.”
Jones added that she was “embarrassed, scared”.
“I don’t want to leave the house. I’m thinking, do I want to go back to the store? Is this going to start happening more often? I don’t know why. I’m confused. There are so many different feelings now,” she said.
The deadly shooting came within hours of a memorial march in Washington, D.C., as organizers drew attention to the growing threat of hate violence against people of color.
The attack on a shopping mall in a predominantly black neighborhood will undoubtedly raise concerns about past shootings targeting black Americans, such as the 2022 shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, and a mass shooting in Charleston, South Carolina. The shooting at the historic African Methodist Episcopal Church, 2015.
The Buffalo supermarket shooting, in particular, was one of the deadliest targeted attacks on black people by a lone white gunman in U.S. history. The gunman, who killed ten people, was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The shooting came a day before the 63rd anniversary of one of Jacksonville’s most notorious racist incidents, “Ax handle Saturday.” A group of black protesters staged a peaceful sit-in in a city park to protest Jim Crow laws that bar them from white-owned stores and restaurants. That’s when they were attacked by 200 Ku Klux Klan members, who beat them with bats and ax handles, while the police stood by.
Only when members of black street gangs arrived to fight the Ku Klux Klan did the police intervene. Only black people were arrested.
Lauques reported from Jacksonville, Spencer from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Ahmed from St. Paul, Minnesota. AP New York writer Aaron Morrison and Washington writer Mike Balsamo also contributed.