The suspect in a racially motivated shooting in Jacksonville, Florida over the weekend bought at least two of his guns legally—even after being involuntary held in a mental health facility in 2017, authorities said Sunday.
Ryan Christopher Palmeter, 21, had no criminal arrest history prior to his massacre at a Dollar General store that killed three Black victims on Saturday. But he was held under the Baker Act six years ago, a Florida law which allows for an individual to be held involuntarily up to 72 hours for examination if authorities suspect that someone has severe mental illness and presents an immediate danger to themselves or others.
He bought a handgun and an AR-15-style rifle earlier this year, both of which were used in Saturday’s shooting.
“In this situation, there was nothing illegal about him owning the firearms,” Jacksonville Sheriff T.K. Waters told reporters at a press conference Sunday.
Palmeter stormed into the Jacksonville Dollar General on Saturday afternoon wielding the two guns—one of which was decorated with a swastika—and fatally shot three Black victims.
The 21-year-old then turned a gun on himself and died by suicide, authorities said.
The Sheriff’s Office named the three victims as 52-year-old Angela Michelle Carr, 19-year-old Anolt Joseph “AJ” Laguerre Jr., and 29-year-old Jarrald De’Shaun Gallion.
Palmeter was a registered Republican, according to Florida voter records. He was spotted and photographed at a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert in 2018, as seen in a photo story published by the Florida Times-Union.
He appeared to maintain a sparse Twitter account. The profile, which was created in October 2017, followed three Jacksonville news outlets, the City of Jacksonville, and the Jacksonville County Sheriff’s Office. Its sole tweet was an acceptance letter from Flagler College, which said he was projected to graduate in 2024. “Looking forward to a bright career in Business Administration!” the tweet read.
“The gunman responsible for the Jacksonville shooting this past weekend was not a current student at Flagler College,” a spokesperson for the school told The Daily Beast.
Both of Palmeter’s parents are registered Democrats, according to public voting records. His mom is also a professional medical coder, and was the subject of a 2011 feature in an American Association of Professional Coders magazine. In the feature, she spoke effusively about her family, including her husband’s help with raising their two sons. “Palmeter’s husband knows when her head is ready to erupt from government regulatory overload and ‘he conveys the message to the children to “stand clear” without frightening them, and he “feeds and waters” the kids’ on those nights when she attends local chapter meetings or has to work late,” the profile read. “She said, ‘Of course, our kids like this because they get to eat their favorite dish (my not-so-favorite), Tater Tot® casserole.’”
Palmeter, himself, doesn’t appear to have a criminal history. But his older brother, James Palmeter, is currently serving a prison sentence for a 2017 armed robbery, according to police records. A year earlier, Palmeter’s parents called the police to report a domestic disturbance between Ryan and James, Sheriff Waters said.
Waters also expressed sympathy to Palmeter’s parents, who, according to a neighbor, are being watched over by the sheriff’s office as their identities become known to the public. “[The shooter] made a decision to do something that his parents obviously didn’t know about," Waters told NBC News. “I do know that his parents didn't want guns in the house because he asked to bring it there, and they said no.”
Before his deadly rampage at the Dollar General Store, Palmeter had approached the campus of Edward Waters University, a local HBCU, but was turned away by security.
In Sunday’s news conference, Sheriff Waters broke down the chaotic 30-minute spree of violence that ended with Palmeter’s apparent suicide, according to NBC News.
At 12:48 p.m., Palmeter arrived at Edward Waters University in his gray Honda Element sporting a bulletproof vest. Minutes later, Palmeter left the campus after the university’s security entered the same parking lot as him. Twenty minutes after he arrived at EWU, campus security contacted a Jacksonville officer to flag Palmeter as a suspicious person, prompting a BOLO report (be on the lookout).
But by that point, it was too late. Palmeter was already at the Dollar General parking lot, where he unloaded 11 rounds into the car of his first victim before making his way inside the store.
A reporter at Sunday’s presser asked Sheriff Waters to verify reports of Palmeter letting two white women out of the Dollar General before opening fire. “He let several people out of the store. Why? I don’t know. Some of them were white, but I do believe there was a couple that were not.”
Palmeter was believed to have shot and killed himself at 1:19 p.m.—just 11 minutes after entering the Dollar General lot.
Almost immediately, the shooting was deemed “racially motivated” and was being investigated as a hate crime.
“Plainly put, this shooting was racially motivated and he hated Black people,” Sheriff Waters told reporters at a press conference on Saturday.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis condemned the shooting on Saturday as a “very cowardly act,” calling the gunman a “scumbag.” “He was targeting people based on their race. That is totally unacceptable,” DeSantis told WJAX-TV. However, critics of the governor-turned-presidential candidate blasted him for allegedly creating a hostile environment for minorities in the state, and for previously refusing to condemn neo-Nazis who supported him.
On Sunday, Attorney General Merrick Garland announced that the Department of Justice is “investigating this attack as a hate crime and an act of racially-motivated violent extremism.”
“One of the Justice Department’s first priorities upon its founding in 1870 was to bring to justice white supremacists who used violence to terrorize Black Americans,” Garland said in a news release. “That remains our urgent charge today.”
President Biden on Sunday condemned the racist shooting, stating that “white supremacy has no place in America.”
“We must refuse to live in a country where Black families going to the store or Black students going to school live in fear of being gunned down because of the color of their skin,” Biden said in a statement. “Hate must have no safe harbor. Silence is complicity and we must not remain silent.”
This story is developing, check back for updates.