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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

3 dead in racially motivated shooting at Florida store, officials say

Law enforcement officials investigated the scene of a mass shooting at a Dollar General store in Jacksonville, Fla., on Saturday.

By Orlando Mayorquin

A white gunman wearing a tactical vest barged into a Dollar General store in Jacksonville, Florida, on Saturday and fatally shot three Black people in an attack that authorities said they were investigating as a hate crime.

The gunman, who has not been publicly identified and was described as being in his early 20s, died after shooting himself, Sheriff T.K. Waters of Jacksonville said at a news conference Saturday evening.

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

The rampage Saturday was the latest high-profile racially motivated attack carried out by a white gunman in the United States.

A shooting last year that targeted Black people left 10 dead at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York. And in 2019, an attack at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, killed 22. The gunman in that shooting told police he wanted to kill Mexicans.

In Jacksonville, the victims were two males and a female, officials said. No one else was shot or injured.

Authorities said the gunman left his parents’ house in neighboring Clay County about 11:39 a.m. Saturday and headed toward Jacksonville. At 1:18 p.m., he texted his father to ask him to check his computer.

Waters said the gunman had written “several manifestoes,” including one to his parents, in which he detailed his “disgusting ideology of hate.”

The Clay County Sheriff’s Office received a call from the gunman’s parents at 1:53 p.m. By that time, Waters said, the shooting had already begun in Jacksonville.

Authorities said the gunman was armed with an AR-15-style rifle that bore swastika markings, as well as a handgun.

He had been spotted on the campus of Edward Waters University, a historically Black college about half a mile from the Dollar General.

The school had ordered its students to shelter in place amid reports of the shooting. It was not clear what, if any, intentions the gunman might have had related to the school.

“I can’t tell you what his mindset was while he was there,” Waters said. “But he did go there and he did put his vest on and a mask on and then went directly to Dollar General.”

Waters added, “This is a dark day in Jacksonville’s history. Any loss of life is tragic, but the hate that motivated the shooter’s killing spree adds an additional layer of heartbreak.”

In Jacksonville, a city of 971,000 where 30% of residents are Black, people formed prayer circles outside the scene, which was cordoned off by police.

Donna Deegan, the mayor of Jacksonville, pointed out that the shooting came on the five-year anniversary of a shooting at a gaming tournament in the city that left three dead, including the gunman. She said the gunman Saturday alluded to that 2018 shooting in his written statements.

“I can’t even begin to tell you how frustrating this is for all of us,” Deegan said. “We’ve seen it too much.”

Local residents weighed in as details emerged.

“Hate motivated him to do this,” said Warren Jones, a school board member and former council member. “There’s a lot of hate speech going on.”

Laylana Bell, 43, called the surrounding neighborhood a “close-knit community” filled with longtime “mom and pop” businesses and older homes and apartments occupied by low-income residents.

“A lot of us went to school together,” Bell said. “A lot of people went to EWC,” alluding to the university.

The Dollar General, she added, was a relatively new addition.

The store chain said in a statement that it was “heartbroken by the senseless act of violence” and that it was working closely with law enforcement.

Police said the gunman had been involved in a “domestic call” in 2016 and that he underwent a mental illness examination by authorities in 2017.

On Saturday evening, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis released a video statement calling the shooting “horrific” and saying the gunman had targeted victims based on their race.

“That is totally unacceptable,” DeSantis said.

He added: “This guy killed himself rather than face the music and accept responsibility for his actions. And so he took the coward’s way out.”

DeSantis’ office said he would cut short a campaign trip to Iowa and return to Florida.

In a statement, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, said the agency was “closely monitoring” the situation surrounding the shooting.

“Too many Americans — in Jacksonville and across our country — have lost a loved one because of racially-motivated violence,” Mayorkas said.

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