Michigan State gunman ‘felt slighted’ before attack, note said

Photo by Dieu-Nalio Chery for The Washington Post.
Michigan State students support one another after placing flowers on campus following Friday night’s shooting.

EAST LANSING, Mich. – The gunman who killed three students at Michigan State University and critically injured five others carried a note targeting his former employer and other businesses because he “felt slighted,” police said Thursday.

At a briefing Thursday, Michigan State Police spokesman Lt. Rene Gonzalez said Anthony Dwayne McRae, 43, who shot and killed himself Monday when police confronted him, listed a church and several local businesses on the note found on his body. The sites included a Meijer pharmacy warehouse, where he once worked, and schools as far away as New Jersey, where he once lived.

McRae also said he was the leader of “20 killers” – a claim police said was untrue because his father told police he had no friends and rarely left his room.

“He just felt slighted,” Gonzalez said. “That’s sort of what the note indicated.”

Authorities said they have not established a clear link between the shooter and MSU, although they are investigating whether he once applied for a job at the school. They are also investigating whether he suffered from mental illness.

“We believe there were no other suspects involved and McRae was the lone shooter,” Gonzalez said.

Michigan State’s interim president, Teresa Woodruff, said Thursday that the university had resumed “standard” operations but that classes would be canceled through Sunday. Woodruff said Berkey Hall, where two students were killed, will be closed for the remainder of the semester. Officials have not decided whether to reopen the student union, where the third student died.

Woodruff said that although classes would resume as of Monday, officials were discussing whether accommodations would be made for students.

Authorities said McRae entered a classroom at Berkey Hall on the sprawling East Lansing campus just before 8:30 p.m. Monday and began firing before moving on to the student union. The attack terrorized students and employees at the school, and many hunkered down in classrooms and bathrooms for over three hours as a manhunt ensued.

Police said Thursday that when McRae died, he was carrying two 9mm handguns that he had obtained legally but had not registered, as well nine loaded magazines of ammunition and a pouch with additional bullets.

A third handgun – confiscated by police in 2019 after McRae pleaded guilty to a lesser misdemeanor after being charged with carrying a gun without a permit – remains in police custody, officials said.

Chris Rozman, the interim deputy chief of police for MSU, said at the briefing Thursday that the MSU police department had been operating on the assumption that there was an active shooter on campus during the lengthy shelter-in-place ordeal, although McRae was found over three miles away after a citizen saw him walking along a road and contacted police. The citizen’s call came in 17 minutes after police had broadcast photos of McRae entering an MSU building, Rozman said.

Police have not identified the wounded, citing their privacy. A school official said one of the five victims, who had all been listed in critical condition by E.W. Sparrow Hospital in Lansing, was upgraded Thursday to stable condition.

The Michigan State shooting was the latest in a long line of high-profile mass killings this year and ignited a debate on the campus about gun control after “The Rock” – a boulder that serves as a community message board – was painted with anti-gun, then pro-gun rhetoric before being painted over yet again with the victim’s names.

The Rock was the site of an emotional vigil Wednesday night for the victims, who included Arielle Anderson, 19, a straight-A student who dreamed of becoming a doctor; Alexandria Verner, 20, a three-sport high school athlete; and Brian Fraser, 20, who led his fraternity and was called a “great friend.” All were from communities in the Detroit area.

“Our hearts break for those lives that were shattered by gun violence,” Michigan’s Democratic governor, Gretchen Whitmer, said Wednesday night, calling gun violence a “uniquely American problem.”

Whitmer and other Democrats have called for measures tightening access to guns, which they hope to push through after flipping the state legislature in the November midterm elections. Whitmer has said she wants three policy changes passed: universal background checks, safe-storage laws and extreme-risk protection orders, also known as “red-flag laws,” which prevent a person who is deemed a threat to themselves or others from possessing a gun. Republicans in Michigan and nationally have remained opposed to tightening access to weapons.

So far this year, there have been 72 mass shootings in the United States, more than at this point in any year since the archive began tracking in 2014, according to data from the Gun Violence Archive.

McRae’s father, Michael McRae, told The Washington Post in an interview that his son had changed after his mother died from a stroke in 2020. McRae had become withdrawn and sullen, his father said, and he rarely left the house.

Michael McRae said his son had bought a gun sometime after he was arrested in 2019 on a weapons violation, but he never admitted that he had it in the house and refused to show it to his father.

When the father confronted the son about gunshots he heard in his backyard in Lansing, he said, Anthony McRae told him it was fireworks. Lansing’s police chief said at the briefing that they did not have any reports from neighbors of shots fired at the home.