JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — A masked white man fatally shot three people inside a Jacksonville, Florida, Dollar General store in a predominately Black neighborhood on Saturday in a deliberate attack after leaving behind racist writings, officials said. The shooter then killed himself.
“He hated Black people,” Jacksonville Sheriff T.K. Waters told a news conference. “There is absolutely no evidence the shooter is part of any larger group.”
Waters said the shooter, who was in his 20s, used a Glock handgun and an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle with at least one of the firearms painted with a swastika. He was wearing a bullet-resistant vest.
The two men and one woman who were killed were Black, Waters said. Officials didn’t immediately release the names of the victims or the shooter.
The sheriff said the gunman had left behind writings that led investigators to believe that he committed the shooting because it was the fifth anniversary of when another gunman opened fire during a video game tournament in Jacksonville, killing two people before fatally shooting himself.
The shooting happened just before 2 p.m. at a Dollar General about three-quarters of a mile from Edward Waters University, a small historically Black university. Sheriff Waters said the suspect was seen on campus shortly before the shooting, putting on his vest and a mask.
“I can’t tell you what his mindset was while he was there, but he did go there,” the sheriff said.
Edward Waters University students were being kept in their dorms, the school said in a statement. No students or faculty are believed involved, the school said.
The shooter had driven to Jacksonville from neighboring Clay County. Shortly before the attack, the shooter had sent his father a text message telling him to check his computer. The father found the writings 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 this cowardly shooter’s personal ideology.” He said the investigation will continue and that the shooter’s home is being searched.
Mayor Donna Deegan said she is “heartbroken.”
“This is a community that has suffered again and again. So many times this is where we end up,” Deegan said. “This is something that should not and must not continue to happen in our community.”
Gov. Ron DeSantis, after speaking by phone with the sheriff, called the shooter a “scumbag” and denounced his racist motivation.
“This guy killed himself rather than face the music and accept responsibility for his actions. He took the coward’s way out,” said DeSantis, who was in Iowa campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination.
Both President Joe Biden and Attorney General Merrick Garland were briefed on the shooting, officials said.
Penny Jones told the The Associated Press that she worked at the store, located a few blocks away from her home, until a few months ago.
“I’m just waiting to hear about my co-workers that I used to work with,” Jones said. “I don’t know if it’s safe to move about the neighborhood.”
Jones added that she was “feeling awkward, scared.”
“I don’t want to leave my house. I’m thinking, do I want to go back to the store? Is this going to start happening more frequently? I don’t know what the cause of it is. I’m confused. It’s a lot of different feelings going on right now,” she said.
The deadly shooting took place within hours of the conclusion of a commemorative March on Washington in the nation’s capital, where organizers drew attention to the growing threat of hate-motivated violence against people of color.
The attack on a shopping center in a predominately Black neighborhood will undoubtedly evoke fears of past shootings targeting Black Americans, like the one at a Buffalo, New York, supermarket in 2022, and one at a historic African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015.
The Buffalo supermarket shooting, in particular, stands apart as one of the deadliest targeted attacks on Black people by a white lone gunman in U.S. history. Ten people were killed by the gunman, who has been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Spencer reported from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and Ahmed reported from St. Paul, Minnesota. Associated Press writers Aaron Morrison in New York and Mike Balsamo in Washington contributed.
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