EAST LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — The man who opened fire at Michigan State University was carrying two legally purchased handguns and additional ammunition, police say.
MSU Police Interim Deputy Chief Chris Rozman confirmed at a Thursday morning news conference that Anthony McRae had purchased the two 9 mm handguns legally, though was not prepared to say when and where he bought them. The guns were not properly registered, Rozman added.
Police weren’t prepared to say exactly when the guns were bought or where. Rozman said that information may be released later.
McRae died by suicide about four miles from campus more than three hours after the shooting. Police say someone saw surveillance photos of the shooter on TV and called 911. When Lansing officers approached him, he pulled out a gun and shot himself without a word.
Also found on his body were a fully loaded magazine, a pouch containing 90 rounds of loose ammunition, bus tickets. a cellphone and two pages of notes found in his wallet that indicated where he was going to visit next, according to Michigan State Police Lt. Rene Gonzalez. He said the notes may contain an indication of why McRae shot at students.
KILLER’S NOTE LISTED BUSINESSES, GRIEVANCES
“It appears based on the content of the note that he felt that he was slighted in some way by people or businesses. Did a mental health issue amplify that or was it a component of that? We’re not sure at this point,” Rozman said. “That’s the question on all of our minds and we’re working our best to try to determine that as best as possible. And we’ve committed to sharing accurate information and I don’t have an accurate answer for you right now other than to say we continue to look at that and attempt to determine the actual motive.”
Gonzalez could not provide precise details about what the shooter’s letter said because he had not read it himself, but confirmed it threatened businesses, a church and a school in New Jersey, where McRae lived years ago. Gonzalez did not have information about McRae’s connection to the church.
“We found that he had had contact with some of those places. He was an employee of the Meijer warehouse at one time and a couple of the other businesses, it appears that he’d had some issues with the employees there where he was asked to leave. Possibly a motive for that was he just felt slighted, and that’s kind of what the note indicated,” Gonzalez said.
Rozman said campus police still couldn’t find any connection between McRae and MSU, though McRae’s father said his son had previously tried to get a job there.
‘NOTHING IN PLACE’ TO STOP GUNMAN FROM BUYING WEAPON
Lansing police confirmed that they had contact with McRae in the past — in 2005 for a larceny complaint, the same year for a traffic violation, and two more traffic violations in 2007, according to Lansing Police Department Chief Ellery Sosebee. In 2019, McRae was arrested for carrying a concealed weapon but pleaded to a lesser charge.
“There was nothing in place to prohibit him from purchasing a firearm,” Rozman said.
“It’s my understanding is that in that case, a motion was made by the defense and then before that motion was pushed through to a decision that the then-prosecutor of Ingham County chose to drop that (CCW) charge and negotiate down to a lesser crime which gave him (McRae) no jail time, no felony charge to prohibit him from buying additional weapons in the future and a year of probation,” Lansing Police Department Chief Sosebee said. “We would all hope that a prosecutor would uphold the law as it’s written. There’s always room for some type of discretion, however, that one will be scrutinized for a long time, I’m sure.”
Sosebee said Lansing PD had never been called to a report of shots fired at McRae’s home, though neighbors told News 8 they had heard McRae shoot his gun outside.
POLICE RESPONSE WAS ‘COMPLEX’ BUT UNIFIED
By the time the note was found, Rozman said police were operating out of a unified command center that allowed them to get information from the scene where McRae took his own life and quickly report the threat was over.
Gonzalez said the place where McRae died was not far from his home. It seemed as though he spent the more than three hours between the shooting and when he died simply walking home.
“It looked like from looking at the video that we did have portions of that he was just walking home,” he said. “It appeared to us that he was heading home when someone just spotted him from the picture we put out on him.”
Rozman police implemented “rings” of deployment with campus at the center. With calls still coming in about potential shots fired and possible sightings of the shooter, police had no reason to believe the shooter was gone and no indication that he was, in fact, ultimately miles away.
“I know it’s something that in hindsight can kind of be questioned, ‘how did he get from point A to point B with nobody seeing him or no law enforcement seeing him?’ All I can do is assure you and the community and our students that we were acting on the best information we had at the time, making critical decisions that we still stand by in deploying our resources in the most efficient and effective way possible to ensure the continued safety of campus,” Rozman said.
He said police responded to each report of additional shots fired as real, even though they turned out not to be.
“Our officers, following their training and their drive, entered those facilities ready to hunt somebody down and take them out and prevent them from ending any other life,” Rozman said. “It took us a while to determine that some of those were false.”
The first shots were fired at Berkey Hall around 8:20 p.m. Police released surveillance images of the shooter at 11:18 p.m.
When asked why it took three hours for police to release photos of the shooter, pulled from surveillance video, Rozman said investigators had to sift through a large amount of footage to find the images.
“We have thousands of cameras on this campus. We’ve worked recently to enhance that even further. That system is complex,” Rozman said. “Our investigators immediately began reviewing surveillance footage. It did take them a little bit of time to locate that due to the number and the volume of the cameras that we have. And we didn’t know what his path was at that point. We didn’t know which door he exited, we didn’t know which route he took. We didn’t know where he went after he left those buildings.”
He said by the time officers arrived at Berkey Hall and at the Union, where the second set of shots was fired, the shooter was already gone. Rozman reminded people that it was an “ongoing, complex incident” and commended the investigators who scrubbed through the footage to find the images.
“As soon as we located that image, we immediately pushed it out on social media. My understanding is that the caller actually saw it on one of the news stations…” Rozman said. “And then 17 minutes later (after releasing the photo), we received a phone call through our dispatch center that he was seen.”
McRae was confronted by Lansing police and took his own life shortly before midnight.
Marlon Lynch, vice president for public safety and chief of police at MSU, said the school is in the process of centralizing its security systems and adding real-time monitoring, which would help investigators pull surveillance images more quickly. That initiative was announced in the fall.
There was a lot of misinformation circulating on social media Monday night as the killer was still being sought, some of it originating from scanner traffic that students were listening to in real time. Lynch said that “most definitely” contributed to the panic on campus.
“If that’s what’s going on, what else do you have to believe if you’re actively listening to a scanner?” Lynch said. “And that’s why we were communicating in the manner that we were. Please utilize us as your source for information.”
Police got several other reports of more shots later in the night, though the only shots fired were at Berkey Hall and the Union. Lynch said teams were dispatched to each of those other locations to quickly determine what was happening.
STUDENTS MOVE FORWARD, TRY TO HEAL
Three students, Arielle Anderson, 19; Brian Fraser, 20; and Alexandria Verner, 20, were killed in the shooting.
At the end of Thursday’s press conference, Rema Vassar, chair of the MSU Board of Trustees, announced that one of the five student victims who had been injured in the shooting was moved from critical to stable condition.
“The shooter came and took so much from us, but also took our sense of safety,” said Vassar, who is also a mother of a student who sheltered in place for three hours in a bathroom during the shooting.
“I’m giving my daughter… a lot of grace. I want that grace extended to all students, all staff and all faculty,” Vassar said.
Michigan State University Interim President Teresa Woodruff said that the university would be resuming standard operations Thursday after 48 hours of modified operations. Classes remain suspended until Sunday.
Lynch said the university would be having discussions about security, including physical security and officer deployment, and that the community would be involved in that.
“I believe we are a strong community and we will not allow a single individual to take our university from us,” Woodruff said. “…This is our home, this is our university.”
Woodruff said the university was still considering the options for continuing classes this semester, including online options and where education would continue.
“Yesterday when we went by the Union we actually couldn’t go in but we saw the exact place that we were sitting down and it kind of just takes you through that whole moment again,” MSU student Max Cibor said.
Freshman roommates Cibor and Matthew Sommerdyke, who were in the MSU Union when shots were fired, say the gravity of being so close to the threat is starting to set in.
“I couldn’t believe it (was) happening,” Sommerdyke said.
“As the days go on it gets a little less numbing and real emotions start to hit us, I think, a little bit harder,” Cibor said.
Students say being back in the area was difficult.
“It makes you think how grateful I am that I made it out alive and walking to Berkey Hall today … it just gives you the chills. There’s no other way to describe it,” Cibor said.
While getting back to class will be difficult, it’s something Sommerdyke says is very important.
“I definitely think a sense of normalcy and getting back to it as soon as possible,” he said. “But still respecting students’ time for mental health and stuff like that is definitely necessary. I think the sooner we get back, the sooner things can return to normal because they’re not normal right now. The campus is empty, everyone is going home.”
One international student told News 8 the campus has been forever changed.
“It’s hard. It’s hard,” he said. “To me, East Lansing has already been, has always been a quiet place and a very calm place.”
He had morning classes inside Berkey Hall.
“Walking inside today, it’s like it’s different,” he said.
Students say something needs to be done to prevent others from going through this pain.
“It’s the first time I actually (saw) what it can cost the community and cost the people around us,” the student said.
Berkey Hall reopened to students, faculty and staff Thursday morning to get the belongings they left behind. FBI employees and victim specialists were there to help and check in on students.
Also in attendance were comfort dogs, and smoothies were handed out as a sign of support to police and students.
On Wednesday, students and staff were allowed to get their belongings from MSU Union. The FBI said victims specialists had been flown in from all over the country to help people process as they came back for their items.
At the time of the news conference Wednesday, 18 students still had not picked up their things from the Union pickup, but Special Agent in Charge of the FBI in Michigan Jim Tarasca said students can pick up those items Thursday at Berkey Hall.
If students were not comfortable coming back to the building they could contact MSU Police to make other arrangements.
“We care about the students. They’re part of the community and we want them to be mentally healthy and get back on their feet,” Tarasca said.
On Tuesday, the FBI tweeted a request for people to submit any photos or videos they may have of the shooting. A web page is open and available to upload files along with your name and contact information.
— News 8’s Kyle Mitchell contributed to this report.