White gunman kills three Black people in Florida store in ‘hate crime’ then kills himself

A masked white man fatally shot three Black people inside a Jacksonville, Florida,  store in a predominately African-American neighbourhood on Saturday, in an attack where he used a gun painted with a swastika, officials said.

The shooter, who had also posted racist writings, then killed himself, the Associated Press reported.

President Joe Biden and Attorney-General Merrick Garland were briefed on the new Florida shooting.

Jacksonville Sheriff T.K. Waters told a news conference that the attack that left two men and one woman dead was definitely “racially motivated” in a hate crime.

“He hated Black people,” Sheriff Waters said after reviewing the man’s writings, which were sent to federal law enforcement officials and at least one media outlet shortly before the attack. He said the gunman acted alone and “there is absolutely no evidence the shooter is part of any larger group”.

Sheriff Waters said the shooter, who was in his 20s, used a Glock handgun and an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle with at least one of them painted with a swastika.

He was wearing a bullet-resistant vest.

Photographs of a rifle painted with swastikas and a handgun lying in blood are shown on a monitor during a news conference by Jacksonville authorities

Photographs of a rifle painted with swastikas and a handgun lying in blood are shown on a monitor during a news conference by Jacksonville authorities – WJXX ABC/ABC TV/Reuters

Sheriff  Waters said the shooter had once been involved in a 2016 domestic violence incident and was once involuntarily committed to a mental hospital for examination. He did not provide further details on those incidents.

Officials didn’t immediately release the names of the victims or the shooter.

The sheriff said the gunman had left behind in his writings evidence that leads investigators to believe that he committed the shooting because it was the fifth anniversary of when another gunman opened fire during a video game tournament in Jacksonville, killing two people before fatally shooting himself.

The shooting happened just before 2pm. at a Dollar General about three-quarters of a mile from Edward Waters University, a small historically Black university.

In a statement, the university said that shortly before the shooting, one of its security officers saw the man near the school’s library and asked him to identify himself. When he refused, he was asked to leave. The man returned to his car.

Sheriff Waters said the man was spotting putting on his vest and mask before leaving. He said it is unknown if he had originally planned to attack the school.

“I can’t tell you what his mindset was while he was there, but he did go there,” the sheriff said.

Residents gather for a prayer near the scene of a mass shooting at a Dollar General store

Residents gather for a prayer near the scene of a mass shooting at a Dollar General store – John Raoux/AP

Edward Waters students were locked down in their dorms for several hours after the shooting. No students or faculty are believed involved, the school said.

The shooter had driven to Jacksonville from neighbouring Clay County, where he lived with his parents, the sheriff said. That house was being searched late on Saturday.

Shortly before the attack, the shooter sent his father a text message telling him to check his computer. The father found the writings and the family notified 911, but the shooting had already begun, Sheriff Waters said.

“This is a dark day in Jacksonville’s history. There is no place for hate in this community,” the sheriff said. “I am sickened by this cowardly shooter’s personal ideology.” He said the investigation will continue. The FBI was helping the sheriff’s office and said it had opened a hate crime investigation.

City Mayor Donna Deegan said she is “heartbroken”.

“This is a community that has suffered again and again. So many times this is where we end up,” Ms Deegan said. “This is something that should not and must not continue to happen in our community.”

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, after speaking by phone with the sheriff, called the shooter a “scumbag” and denounced his racist motivation.

“This guy killed himself rather than face the music and accept responsibility for his actions. He took the coward’s way out,” said Mr DeSantis, who was in Iowa campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination.

Dollar General’s corporate office said in a statement, “We are heartbroken by the senseless act of violence that occurred at our Kings Road store in Jacksonville, Florida today. At this time, supporting our Jacksonville employees and the DG family impacted by this tragedy is a top priority as we work closely with law enforcement.”

The deadly shooting took place within hours of the conclusion of a commemorative March on Washington in the nation’s capital, where organisers drew attention to the growing threat of hate-motivated violence against people of colour.

The attack on a shopping centre in a predominately Black neighbourhood raised memories of past shootings targeting Black Americans, such as the one at a Buffalo, New York, supermarket in 2022, and one at a historic African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015.

The Buffalo supermarket shooting, in particular, stands apart as one of the deadliest targeted attacks on Black people by a white lone gunman in US history. Ten people were killed by the gunman, who has been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

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