By RUSS BYNUM and AARON MORRISON (Associated Press)
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Hundreds of people gathered Sunday at prayer vigils and in church, in frustration and exhaustion, to mourn yet another racist attack in America: this one the killing of three Black people in Florida at the hands of a white, 21-year-old man who authorities say left behind white supremacist ramblings that read like “the diary of a madman.”
Following services earlier in the day, about 200 people showed up at a Sunday evening vigil a block from the Dollar General store in Jacksonville where officials said Ryan Palmeter opened fire Saturday using guns he bought legally despite a past involuntary commitment for a mental health exam.
Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis — who is running for the GOP nomination for president, who has loosened gun laws in Florida and who has antagonized civil rights leaders by deriding “wokeness ” — was loudly booed as he addressed the vigil.
Ju’Coby Pittman, a Jacksonville city councilwoman who represents the neighborhood where the shooting happened, stepped in to ask the crowd to listen.
“It ain’t about parties today,” she said. “A bullet don’t know a party.”
DeSantis said that on Monday the state would be announcing financial support for security at Edward Waters University, the historically black college near where the shooting occurred, and to help the affected families. He called the gunman a “major league scumbag.”
“What he did is totally unacceptable in the state of Florida,” DeSantis said. “We are not going to let people be targeted based on their race.”
Sheriff T.K. Waters identified those killed 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 in a predominantly Black neighborhood.
Gallion attended St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Bishop John Guns told the crowd. He was the 33rd murder victim in the 27 years Guns has been there, he said.
“In two weeks I have to preach a funeral of a man who should still be alive,” Guns said. “He was not a gangster, he was not a thug — he was a father who gave his life to Jesus and was trying to get it together.
“I wept in church today like a baby because my heart is tired. We are exhausted.”
The latest in a long history of American racist killings unfolded early Saturday afternoon after Palmeter first parked at Edward Waters University.
The sheriff said a video posted on TikTok with no timestamp showed Palmeter donning a bullet-resistant vest. A university security guard spotted Palmeter and parked near him. 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.
Palmeter used an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle and a Glock handgun in the shooting, Waters said. He had legally purchased the guns in recent months even though he had been involuntarily committed for a mental health examination in 2017. Because Palmeter was released after the examination, that would have not shown up on his background checks.
Palmeter killed himself as police arrived, about 11 minutes after the shooting began.
Palmeter lived with his parents in neighboring Clay County. He 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 the racist writings Waters described as “quite frankly, the diary of a madman.”
“He was just completely irrational,” Waters said. “But with irrational thoughts, he knew what he was doing. He was 100% lucid.”
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.
“We must say clearly and forcefully that white supremacy has no place in America,” President Joe Biden said in a statement Sunday. “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.”
Earlier Sunday, the pastor of St. Paul AME Church near the site of the shooting told congregants to follow Jesus Christ’s example and keep their sadness from turning to rage.
Jacksonville Mayor Donna Deegan wept during the service. “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.”
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 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.”
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.
Associated Press writers John Raoux in Jacksonville, Terry Spencer in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Trisha Ahmed in St. Paul, Minnesota, and Mike Balsamo in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.
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