‘Fighting evilness’: Jacksonville neighborhood fearful after deadly rampage

Racially motivated shooting occurred during weekend anniversary for Ax Handle Saturday, March on Washington
Authorities said three people were killed in a racially motivated attack at a Dollar General store in Jacksonville, Florida, on Saturday.

Credit: David Aaro / David.Aaro@ajc.com

Combined ShapeCaption
Authorities said three people were killed in a racially motivated attack at a Dollar General store in Jacksonville, Florida, on Saturday.

Credit: David Aaro / David.Aaro@ajc.com

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Crecie Washington was sitting in her dining room Saturday afternoon when the sound of two separate types of gunfire pierced through the brick exterior of her northwest Jacksonville home.

The 53-year-old Georgia native raced toward the front of her single-story residence and saw several people running from her local Dollar General less than 500 feet away. A man who was cutting the grass across the road jumped into a dumpster to hide. “They shooting, they shooting,” she said the man yelled in fear as bullets got closer.

Authorities said a white gunman wearing a tactical vest drove to the store on Kings Road and killed three people in a span of less than 10 minutes, all of whom were Black. The victims were identified as Angela Michelle Carr, 52; Anolt Joseph “AJ” Laguerre Jr., 19; and Jarrald De’Shaun Gallion, 29, Jacksonville Sheriff T.K. Waters said during a news conference on Sunday.

The shooter, Ryan Palmeter, 21, then took his own after the incident, which federal authorities were investigating as a hate crime.

“This shooting was racially motivated, and he hated Black people,” Waters said.

The shootings occurred on the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington and a day before the 63rd anniversary of one of the most violent racist attacks against Blacks in Jacksonville on what is known as Ax Handle Saturday.

“It’s possible it was planned that way, but I think it just was something that was going to happen,” 95-year-old Rudolph W. McKissick Sr, who served as the longtime pastor at Bethel Baptist Institutional Church in Jacksonville, told the AJC. “I’m surprised more were not shot and killed.”

“I’m praying for a better dispensation for America,” he added.

On Sunday morning, caution tape still surrounded the Dollar General, a gas station, and businesses in the predominantly Black neighborhood after the rampage. News vans were parked on nearby streets, some residents walked over to the barriers amid the Florida heat and several drivers slowed down to look through their car windows in curiosity.

Credit: David Aaro / David.Aaro@ajc.com

Credit: David Aaro / David.Aaro@ajc.com

Washington stood on her front porch near two small Georgia bulldog statues as police lights continued to shine within view. Just three days earlier, the Jacksonville resident, who is from Warwick, Georgia, said she was greeted inside the well-kept store by a staff filled with friendly employees. It now remains closed and marked by tragedy.

“It was like a shock, disbelief because this is really a quiet, close knit community,” Washington told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution outside her home Sunday morning.

Palmeter was armed with a Glock handgun and AR-15-style rifle that had swastika markings when he arrived at the store in a grey Honda Element at around 1:08 p.m., Waters said. He was captured on video shooting into a black Kia, where Carr sat inside. He then entered the store and shot Laguerre. Soon after, several people fled outside the back and Palmeter gave chase before he went back inside and attempted to shoot at a security camera. That was only the beginning.

Ron-reco Harris, 32, had just returned to his Kings Road home from getting a haircut on Saturday when he heard the gunshots getting closer, he said. Harris, who has lived in the neighborhood his whole life, then saw people running out of the store he frequents often. He quickly grabbed his 9-year-old son and told him to hide.

Credit: David Aaro / David.Aaro@ajc.com

Credit: David Aaro / David.Aaro@ajc.com

“He was scared, asking if people were shooting,” Harris told the AJC. “I told him to get down.”

Minutes later, Palmeter shot and killed Gallion, who had just entered with his girlfriend, Waters said. Palmeter then chased another woman through the store while shooting at her but missed. The woman managed to escape.

Outside her home on Kings Road, Washington saw a woman wearing a black apron and yellow shirt, who said their son was lying outside the store dead.

Authorities said the gunman drove from his parents’ house in nearby Clay County at around 11:39 a.m., earlier that day. About an hour later, he arrived at Edward Waters University, located less than a mile from the Dollar General, where fall semester classes had begun on Aug. 21. The school is the oldest historically Black college in Florida, according to its website.

School officials said campus security officers had seen Palmeter behind the library at the school and asked him to leave after he refused to identify himself. He later was spotted putting on the vest before driving away, officials said.

Credit: Jacksonville Sheriff's Office

Credit: Jacksonville Sheriff's Office

At about 1:18 p.m., while still inside the store and after shooting three people, Palmeter texted his father to enter his room, where he found a suicide note, along with a last will and testament, Waters said. Authorities previously said he had written several manifestoes detailing a hate-fueled ideology. Mayor Donna Deegan had said written statements sent to federal law enforcement and local media suggested he could have chose the date because it was fifth anniversary of another killing at a video game tournament in the city’s downtown area.

The incident also happened a day before the 63rd anniversary of Ax Handle Saturday. On August 27, 1960, scores of white Klansmen, armed with baseball bats and ax handles attacked a group of Black protestors who had been staging sit-ins at downtown Jacksonville lunch counters. The hostilities spread and soon white men were beating any Black person they encountered on the street.

Rodney L. Hurst was a 16-year-old youth leader of the protest and was among those attacked. Hurst, who was to speak Sunday afternoon in Jacksonville about the 1960 attacks, said “I was not surprised with this lone wolf shooter. Jacksonville has not done some of the things it could have done and should have done over the years” to reduce racial animosity.

“We’re dealing with some of the same things we were dealing with 63 years ago, and it will only change if people of good will want to see it change,” he added.

About 11 minutes after the shooting started, law enforcement officers entered the store and heard a single gunshot, which they believe was when Palmeter shot himself. Authorities said Palmeter legally purchased his guns in recent months despite the state’s Baker Act being invoked against him in 2017, which lets people be detained for up to 72 hours during a mental health crisis.

Audrey Gibson, a Florida state legislator for 10 years and a Jacksonville resident, said one of the most frightening elements of the attack was the sense that it came out of nowhere.

“Nobody sees these things coming, that’s number one,” said Gibson, who called it a nightmare. “That unpredictability is a tremendous source of stress. People should not live in fear every day of their life. How do we make sure they feel safe leaving their homes?”

Residents within walking distance of the store remain shaken 24 hours after the violence. They never expected something like this to happen in their neighborhood: someone coming from outside the city to kill people with their skin color. Washington said a fight remains against evilness, not against specific people or a certain race.

“It’s not a matter of white and black,” she said. “It’s a matter of dark and light.”

AJC reporter Bo Emerson contributed to this report.

About the Author