A white racist's targeting of Black people in a Jacksonville mass shooting serves as a painful reminder of the Florida city's history of racist violence and has raised questions about how the shooter was able to legally acquire the AR-15 semiautomatic rifle and Glock pistol he used in his attack. The killing of three Black people at a store in Jacksonville was the latest act of American gun violence motivated by racist ideology, a national scourge that federal officials have described as one of the most lethal forms of modern domestic terrorism, NBC reports. The attack joins a list of deadly hate-motivated shootings at public gathering places, including a synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018, a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, in 2019, and a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, in 2022. Sherri Onks, the FBI's special agent in charge of the Jacksonville office, told reporters that law enforcement officials had opened a federal civil rights investigation and planned to pursue the attack as a hate crime. "Hate crimes are always and will always remain a top priority for the FBI because they are not only an attack on a victim, they’re also meant to threaten and intimidate an entire community," Onks said, adding that the FBI would "bring every resource we have to bear to bring justice to the families" of the victims.
The 21-year-old shooter, Ryan Palmeter, declared his hate for Black people and decorated his rifle with swastikas before the assault on the store that concluded when he reportedly shot himself. Jacksonville Sheriff T.K. Waters said Palmeter had been involved in a 2016 domestic violence incident that did not lead to an arrest and was involuntarily committed for a 72-hour mental health examination the following year, at the age of 15, the Associated Press reports. The mental health commitment did not bar Palmeter from legally buying his guns earlier this year. During the attack, Palmeter texted his father and told him to break into his room and check his computer. There, the father found a suicide note, a will and racist writings from his son. The family notified authorities, but by then the shooting had already begun, the sheriff said. The store is near Edward Waters University, a historically Black school with about 1,000 students. The school said Palmeter was spotted on campus by a security guard shortly before the shooting and asked to leave when he refused to identify himself. He was seen putting on his bullet-resistant vest and mask before he drove away. Waters said Sunday that it does not appear that he intended to attack the school.