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Florida shooting victims are mourned as a hate crime investigation begins

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Who was the man responsible for a mass shooting in Jacksonville, Fla.?

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

He opened fire over the weekend in a Dollar General store, killing three people and then himself. All of the victims were Black, and the white shooter posted his racist views online.

INSKEEP: Now authorities are saying a little bit more about him. So we have called Will Brown of our member station WJCT in Jacksonville. Good morning, Will.

WILL BROWN, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: What are you hearing from the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office about the gunman?

BROWN: Ryan Christopher Palmeter is the gunman. He is 21 years old and lived in neighboring Clay County with his parents. His parents called police after Ryan told them to look onto his computer. There they found a suicide note and writings that were filled with racial slurs used against Black people. It was reported to the Clay County Sheriff's Office, but by then the shooting was already taking place. Here's Jacksonville Sheriff T.K. Waters. He was incensed by the gunman's writing.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

T K WATERS: The manifesto is, quite frankly, the diary of a madman. He was - I mean, he was just completely irrational.

BROWN: What we do know is that Palmeter also went to Edward Waters University, Florida's oldest historical Black university. But security there asked him to leave. He then drove to the dollar store, which was nearby. Authorities said he did not have a prior police record, but in 2017, he was hospitalized under the Baker Act, which meant he was considered a threat to himself or others. He was released after 72 hours. The sheriff also noted that the two guns used in Saturday's attack - an AR-15-style rifle and a Glock - were purchased legally. The gunman used one of the guns to take his own life at the scene.

INSKEEP: Now, after the shooting, I gather there have been vigils in Jacksonville for the victims. What more are you learning about them?

BROWN: Yes. We are learning that there's overarching sadness and anger. There's sadness for the victims who were identified yesterday as AJ Laguerre Jr., who's 19, Jerrald De’Shaun Gallion, who's 29, and Angela Michelle Carr, who was 52. Those at the vigils also expressed anger for what happened, as well as resolved to ensure that this type of violence doesn't happen again in Jacksonville or anywhere else. I heard repeatedly that people are being taught to hate each other, and the way to eliminate that and such shootings, such as what took place Saturday, is to teach against racism. I had a chance to speak with Paula Findlay. She's the principal at Jacksonville's Arlington Elementary.

PAULA FINDLAY: 'Cause this is about teaching and learning from an early stage in age. And unfortunately, in my 30 years, I've learned how children are planted with those seeds of doubt or dislike or distrust.

INSKEEP: So the community is thinking broadly about the future and about how to prevent other shootings like this. And at the same time, investigators are looking into this incident specifically. Where does the investigation go now?

BROWN: Yes. The sheriff's department is looking into Palmeter's background. And while they have said that they believe that the shooter acted alone, they still want to know more about who he was associated with, whether he had any known affiliations with hate groups and other organizations. You know, the FBI has also said it is open to federal civil rights investigation because they are calling the shooting a hate crime and will be examining Palmeter's social media and anything else that can help with the case.

INSKEEP: Will Brown from member station WJCT in Jacksonville, Fla. Thanks so much.

BROWN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Will Brown