JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — A campus security officer tipped off by observant students likely stopped the killer who fatally shot three people at a nearby Dollar General Store from carrying out his racist attack at Edward Waters University, the president of the historically Black institution said Monday.
Students reported seeing a young, white man, pull into a campus library parking lot in Jacksonville, Florida, and begin putting on tactical gear Saturday, Edward Waters University President Zachary Faison Jr. said. They immediately flagged down a security officer who was on patrol to tell them what they saw.
The officer approached the car on foot when the driver — who would later be identified as the shooter at the store — sped off, hitting a curb and narrowly avoiding a brick column, Faison said. The campus officer, who the campus president called a hero, then called the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and shared the description of the vehicle.
Minutes later, the gunman made his way to a Dollar General Store down the road and killed Angela Michelle Carr, 52, an Uber driver 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 the predominantly Black New Town neighborhood. The gunman killed himself after the murders.
“It’s not just on a whim that he chose to come to Florida’s first historically Black college or university,” said Faison, who expressed condolences to the families of the victims and confirmed none were part of the university.
The campus officer, Lt. Antonio Bailey, said he relied on his training when he responded to the students’ call saw the man in his vehicle wearing a tactical vest, gloves and a hat covering his head. He said he he did not see a weapon at that time.
“I’m no hero,” Bailey said. “If anything, it’s the students who alerted me so I could do my job.”
Faison requested help from the president to secure his campus as students expressed concerns for their safety. Faison said the director for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and members of the school will be conducting a risk assessment before they identify any modifications they may want to make on the campus.
Jacksonville Sheriff T.K. Waters said Monday that investigators believe the shooter specifically targeted the store and that he does not believe Edward Waters University was the intended location for the rampage. The sheriff declined to specify what reason the shooter may have had for targeting the store.
Waters said the man did not speak as he entered the store, but directed some shoppers — both Black and white people — to leave the building. He then began shooting.
“I don’t understand his rhyme or reason for why he did what he did and the way that he did it,” Waters said. “I know that for a fact he was targeting Black people.”
Some say Jacksonville — home to nearly 1 million people, one third of whom are Black — has made strides in dealing with its racist past. The city elected its first Black mayor in 2011. But the weekend shooting happened as the city was preparing to commemorate what it calls Ax Handle Saturday, when a white mob used baseball bats and ax handles to beat peaceful Black demonstrators protesting segregation at a downtown lunch counter on Aug. 27, 1960.
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump stood with the family of Gallion —- holding the man’s 4-year-old daughter, Je Asia, on his hip — at a press conference Monday and said he was also representing the Carr family.
“How do you explain to her where her father is? This is what this is about,” Crump said as Je Asia watched the audience.
Crump called for additional gun reform in the wake of the shooting, saying those who defend and champion gun rights have blood on their hands.
“How many more before the leaders will step up and help solve these issues, versus looking the other way?” Crump said.
Authorities identified the shooter as Ryan Palmeter, 21, who they said was armed and ready to carry out an attack on Black people. During the attack, authorities said, Palmeter texted his father and told him to break into his room and check his computer.
Waters said a journal Palmeter’s father found in his room was “the diary of a madman,” that made it clear he hated Black people. The family notified authorities, but by then the shooting had already begun.
Palmeter used two guns — a Glock handgun and an AR-15 style semi-automatic rifle. Authorities said the weapons were purchased legally earlier this year despite once being involuntarily committed for a mental health exam.
Gonzalez reported from McAllen, Texas. Darlene Superville in Washington, Jake Offenhartz in New York and Stefanie Dazio in Los Angeles contributed to this report.