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People mourn victims of the Florida shooting as a hate crime investigation begins

Residents of the Jacksonville community attend a prayer vigil for the victims of Saturday's mass shooting Sunday, Aug. 27, 2023, in Jacksonville, Fla.
John Raoux
/
AP
Residents of the Jacksonville community attend a prayer vigil for the victims of Saturday's mass shooting Sunday, Aug. 27, 2023, in Jacksonville, Fla.

Updated August 27, 2023 at 9:45 PM ET

Crowds gathered on Sunday at church services and at prayer vigils in Jacksonville, Fla., to mourn the weekend shooting deaths of three victims that the Justice Department is investigating as a hate crime.

At an evening vigil near the Dollar General store where the attack occurred, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was met with boos from the crowd as he stepped to the microphone. As governor, DeSantis, a Republican presidential nominee, has relaxed gun laws and drawn criticism from civil rights leaders for his policies against diversity initiatives and what he calls "woke indoctrination" in schools.

Ju'Coby Pittman, a Jacksonville city councilwoman, stepped in to urge the protesters to listen.

"It ain't about parties today," she said. "A bullet don't know a party."

DeSantis said his state would announce on Monday financial support to go toward security at Edward Waters University and victims' families.

"What [the gunman] did is totally unacceptable in the state of Florida," the governor said. "We are not going to let people be targeted based on their race."

Earlier, authorities identified the victims of the Saturday shooting at a Dollar General store. The victims were identified as Anolt "AJ" Laguerre Jr., 19; Jerrald De'Shaun Gallion, 29; and Angela Michelle Carr, 52 — who were all Black. No others were injured in the gunfire, officials said.

The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office identified the gunman as Ryan Palmeter, 21, who left behind "manifestos" that led investigators to believe the shooting was a hate crime.

"Plainly put, this shooting was racially motivated and he hated Black people," Sheriff T.K. Waters said during a news conference on Saturday evening, adding that the hate at the heart of the writings "adds an additional layer of heartbreak to this tragedy."

Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement that the Department of Justice was investigating the shooting as a hate crime and "an act of racially motivated violent extremism."

Waters said the gunman was believed to have resided in Clay County, and drove about 40 miles north to Jacksonville on Saturday.

Before he approached the Dollar General, the gunman attempted to drive through Edward Waters University, a nearby historically Black university. Campus security confronted the gunman and escorted him out of school grounds, according to A. Zachary Faison Jr., the school's president.

Edward Waters and several other Black colleges received anonymous bomb threatson the first day of Black History Month last year.

"This is not by happenstance. We know that these are targeted attacks," Faison said on Saturday.

The gunman donned a tactical vest and used an assault-style rifle and a handgun to carry out the attack on the store. Photos of the weapons shared during a press conference showed swastikas painted on one side of the rifle.

Waters said the gunman texted his father ahead of the shooting to share the location of three manifesto documents — one addressed to his parents, one to the media and a third to federal agents. The family called the local sheriff's office roughly 30 minutes later, but by that time, the attack had already started.

The gunman acted alone, Waters said, adding, "there is no evidence the shooter was part of a large group." FBI agents are on scene and have opened a federal civil rights investigation, with plans to pursue the incident as a hate crime.

Police said the shooter was involved in a 2016 domestic call, but was not arrested, and that the the Baker Actwas invoked against him in 2017. The Florida act allows individuals to be involuntarily taken to a receiving facility to be treated for mental illness.

Local news outlets reported a heavy police presence at the store along Kings Road in the Northwest neighborhood of College Gardens, starting around 1 p.m. on Saturday. Students at Edward Waters University were told to remain inside their residence halls until the scene could be cleared.

Jacksonville Mayor Donna Deegan toldlocal TV station News4JAX that the shooter had barricaded himself in the store.

"This is a community that has suffered again and again. So many times, this is where we end up," Deegan told reporters at the press conference. "This was a hate-filled crime. We shouldn't have that kind of hate in Jacksonville."

Saturday's shooting unfolded five years to the day after a gunman opened fire at a Jacksonville gaming tournament, killing two people and injuring 11 others before taking his own life.

It also took place on the same day as thousands gathered in Washington, D.C., to renew a push for racial justice, 60 years after Martin Luther King Jr. led his March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Dozens of high-profile speakers mentioned a rise in hate crimes as evidence that King's dream was in jeopardy.

President Biden issued a statement on Sunday, saying, "Jill and I are praying for the victims, their families, and the people of Jacksonville."

"As we continue searching for answers, we must say clearly and forcefully that white supremacy has no place in America," he said.

Isaiah Rumlin, the president of the Jacksonville branch of the NAACP, on Saturday called for improved safety measures to protect Black communities from acts of racial violence.

"It is deeply disheartening that our black communities live in constant fear of being targeted based on the color of their skin, unable to shop at their local store without the threat of violence," Rumlin said in a statement.

He urged the legislature to tighten the state'spermitless carry law, which allows people to legally carry a concealed firearm without mandatory training, licensing fees and background checks.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: August 28, 2023 at 12:00 AM EDT
In an earlier version of this story, the name of one of the victims of the Jacksonville shooting was misspelled. He was identified by authorities as Jerrald De'Shaun Gallion, not Jerrald De'Shaun Gallon.
Emily Olson
Emily Olson is on a three-month assignment as a news writer and live blog editor, helping shape NPR's digital breaking news strategy.
Juliana Kim
Juliana Kim is a weekend reporter for Digital News, where she adds context to the news of the day and brings her enterprise skills to NPR's signature journalism.