The white gunman who killed three Black people at a Dollar General store in Jacksonville, Florida, over the weekend wore a Rhodesian army patch on his tactical vest, law enforcement sources say, a reference that has been used before during white supremacist attacks.
The patch — representing Rhodesia, a former white minority-ruled territory in southern Africa in the 1960s and ’70s that would become Zimbabwe — is yet another symbol of how the shooter, Ryan Palmeter, was racist and was influenced by racist ideology, investigators say.
Further details also emerged Monday about his struggles with his mental health and a domestic disturbance that required law enforcement intervention.
“This shooting was racially motivated, and he hated Black people,” Sheriff T.K. Waters told reporters Saturday.
The victims were identified as: Angela Michelle Carr, 52, an Uber driver who was dropping off a passenger at the Dollar General; Jerrald De’Shaun Gallion, 29; and Anolt Joseph “A.J.” Laguerre Jr., 19, an employee at the store.
The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office said it had no additional comments when asked about the Rhodesian army patch.
An admitted white supremacist who was convicted in the 2015 shooting of nine worshippers at a historically Black church in Charleston, South Carolina, appeared in an online image wearing a jacket with two patches: the green-and-white flag of Rhodesia and the flag of apartheid-era South Africa. He remains on federal death row.
Rhodesia’s white military had been locked in conflict with the Black population before the territory was dissolved into what is now Zimbabwe.
Rhodesia also became a reference for white lawmakers in the South who sought to uphold segregationist Jim Crow-era policies, and it continues to embolden white nationalists in the U.S., said Gerald Horne, the author of “From the Barrel of a Gun: The United States and the War Against Zimbabwe.”
“They would like to see the clock turned back to the days of yore,” said Horne, a professor of history and African American studies at the University of Houston.
“Oftentimes, what you find with some of these white supremacists, these lone wolves, as they’re called, these vigilantes, they adhere to an idea that a single spark can start a prairie fire,” Horne said. “They feel that their actions will lead to a larger conflagration and that will lead to their demented dreams’ coming true.”
At a news conference after Saturday’s shooting, in which three people were killed, authorities said Palmeter, 21, had drawn swastikas in white pen on the AR-style rifle and the Glock handgun he used in the rampage.
Law enforcement sources also said he wrote racial slurs on the firearms.
The FBI said it has opened a federal civil rights investigation and is investigating the shooting as a hate crime.
The killings came two days before the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which thousands celebrated in a march in the nation’s capital.
Palmeter had been living with his parents in Clay County, a suburb of Jacksonville, and had previous interactions with law enforcement.
In March 2016, the Clay County Sheriff’s Office was dispatched to their Orange Park home for a domestic call. According to a report, James Palmeter, Palmeter’s older brother, was upset because his younger brother was “calling him names.” James Palmeter said he turned off the computer his brother was using, which led Ryan Palmeter, who was 14 at the time, to kick him in the groin. The pair had to be separated by their father, Stephen Palmeter, who later called authorities because James Palmeter would not stop yelling, he said.
An investigator did not observe injuries to either brother, according to the report. Neither brother wanted to pursue charges, and ultimately, no arrests were made.
James Palmeter is serving a prison sentence in a 2017 armed robbery, police records show.
In July 2017, Ryan Palmeter was subject to the Baker Act, which provides “emergency services and temporary detention for up to 72 hours for mental health examination” if, among other criteria, there is reason to believe a person is mentally ill and “has refused voluntary examination” because of mental illness.
A Clay County Sheriff’s Office incident report says Stephen Palmeter called to say that his son had left the home on his bicycle and that he had found a letter in his son’s bedroom indicating he was suicidal.
He was taken to a mental health resource center without incident, and the incident report said the case was closed.
Efforts to reach the shooter’s family for comment Monday were unsuccessful.
Florida’s Baker Act, which was established in 1971, allows law enforcement to confiscate guns from someone who is involuntarily committed. Those who enter mental health facilities voluntarily may still be able to possess firearms, unless they are considered dangers to themselves or others.
The guns used in the shooting were purchased legally this year, Waters added.
Palmeter left Clay County at 11:39 a.m. Saturday and headed north to Jacksonville, authorities said. At 1:18 p.m. he texted his father and told him to look on his computer.
At 1:53 p.m., the shooter’s family called the Clay County Sheriff’s Office — but by that time, Waters said, he had already begun shooting at the Dollar General store at Kings Road and Canal Street.
The shooter left messages for his family, federal law enforcement and at least one media outlet detailing “a disgusting ideology of hate,” Waters said.
There was no evidence the shooter was part of a group, and it is believed he acted alone, law enforcement officials said. He died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.