At vigil, state and local leaders say Jacksonville is no place for racists


Speakers at a Sunday vigil proclaimed Jacksonville, Florida, a city intolerant to racial violence, even as they mourned the victims of a mass shooting by a man one county official had described as a racist “maniac.”

“This does not define Jacksonville, Florida,” that official, Sheriff T.K. Waters said at the event on Sunday. “One evil man … cannot shake our resolve.”

Council member Ju’Coby Pittman, who organized the vigil, said she was heartbroken.

“I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired,” she said. “These residents didn’t deserve what happened. They didn’t deserve this.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, initially booed, but ultimately granted an audience, noted that the shooter was not from Jacksonville, the state’s most populous city.

“You had a major league scumbag come from Clay County up here,” he said, “and what he did is totally unacceptable in the state of Florida.”

With defiance usually shown to reporters or political foes as he seeks the Republican nomination for president, DeSantis vowed to protect Jacksonville, its Black community, and Florida’s historically Black colleges and universities from racial violence.

“We are not going to let people be targeted based on their race,” the governor said. “We are going to stand up and we are going to do what we need to do to make sure that evil does not triumph in the state of Florida.”

On Saturday afternoon, the shooter, identified by the sheriff as Ryan Palmeter, 21, of Orange Park, stopped at Jacksonville HBCU Edward Waters University, got out of his vehicle behind a library, and was quickly confronted by campus security, who told him to leave, according Waters and to a statement from the institution.

He drove to a nearby Dollar General store, where he opened fire, killing Angela Michelle Carr, 52; Anolt Joseph “AJ” Laguerre Jr., 19; and Jarrald De’Shaun Gallion, 29, the Waters said.

All the victims were Black, and the sheriff said the shooter left behind messages indicating a belief in white superiority.

On Saturday, Waters had described the man as “quite frankly, a maniac who decided he wanted to take lives.”

The sheriff confirmed Sunday that the shooter was wearing a tactical, bullet-resistant vest and armed with a Palmetto PA-15 semiautomatic rifle, which is a clone of an AR-15. He also had a Glock semiautomatic handgun, Waters said.

The man fatally shot himself after he was cornered by law enforcement, authorities said.

“I’ve spent 32 years in this career,” the sheriff, who is Black, said at the vigil, held down the street from the crime scene. “And I’ve seen some horrible horrible things. But not much rivals what I saw yesterday.”

Mayor Donna Deegan comforts Tyesha Jones, partner of Jarrald Gallion, who was killed in the Jacksonville mass shooting, and his daughter Je Asia at a prayer vigil Sunday.
Mayor Donna Deegan comforts Tyesha Jones, partner of Jarrald Gallion, who was killed in the Jacksonville mass shooting, and his daughter Je Asia at a prayer vigil Sunday.John Raoux / AP

Stepping away from the gathering, two women whose lives are linked to victim Gallion, through his daughter, shared memories of a great father and friend.

“Jarrald was a very loving, caring father,” said Sabrina Rozier, the grandmother of Gallion’s child.  ”From the time my daughter got pregnant till up till yesterday Jarrald never missed a beat. … Every weekend, when they did split up, he still got his daughter.

“He was supposed to be with her yesterday. We’re still trying to find the words to tell her that her daddy is gone. I don’t have the words to tell her, to break her heart. … This man saw fit to break my granddaughter’s heart and take her daddy away.”

Rozier’s daughter, Tyesha Jones, is the mother of Gallion’s daughter.

“He was my best friend,” she said “He was my daughter’s best friend. Even with us not being together we were the best of friends. He got her every weekend, he was the best daddy ever. I’m just going to miss him.”

Keita McNeill, Gallion’s brother, saidthat he collapsed at the news of the slaying.

“I just got on the floor and started crying,” he said. “He didn’t deserve it. All that man did was work and take care of his child.”

In an earlier video conference call, Anolt Laguerre, father of Dollar General cashier Anolt Joseph “AJ” Laguerre Jr., said that his son recently graduated from high school and was just experiencing his first taste of adulthood.

“He hasn’t even lived his life yet,” the father said Sunday. “For someone to take his life away — it is outrageous — because he doesn’t like the color of your skin.”

Earlier this year, the Anti-Defamation League said antisemitic, racist, and anti-LGBTQ+ propaganda was at “all-time high.” In 2021, the White House concluded that the most “persistent and lethal” threats to the United States were coming from “racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists.”

Despite earlier assurances that Jacksonville is no place for Saturday’s horror, some of the city’s prominent voices said there’s work to be done to ensure the Black community doesn’t live in a state of fear.

Vigil speaker Terresa White, pastor at the city’s Heritage Christian Center, said the victims deserve a legacy of change.

“We will make sure that they have a celebration of their lives, but will make a difference in this community,” she said. “We can admit that there’s a problem. And we can admit that we have actions to take.”

POST AUTHOR: Dennis Romero and Gabe Gutierrez and Minyvonne Burke and George Solis

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