As police share new details about the gunman in the Michigan State University mass shooting that left three people dead and five others wounded, authorities say many questions remain, including what motivated the violence.
The suspect – a 43-year-old man named Anthony Dwayne McRae who was not affiliated with the university – died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound when police confronted him hours after the first shots rang out on campus Monday, police said.
Authorities revealed the suspect had a note in his pocket that threatened other shootings hundreds of miles away in New Jersey.
The note “indicated a threat to two Ewing Public Schools,” a police department in New Jersey said Tuesday. The department said the schools were closed out of an abundance of caution and officers were dispatched to area campuses, but assured parents that “the incident is isolated to Michigan, and there is no threat to Ewing Schools.”
McRae, who grew up in New Jersey, had claimed in the letter that there were “20 of him” who will carry these shootings out, according to a source familiar with the investigation.
While it’s not clear why McRae might have planned to target schools in New Jersey, police in Ewing said the “investigation revealed that McRae had a history of mental health issues.”
The suspect’s father, Michael McRae, told CNN his son became bitter, isolated and “evil angry” after his mother died from a stroke two years ago and “didn’t care about anything no more.”
Michigan attorney general Dana Nessel – who said she has sons at MSU who were left shaken – told CNN many unanswered questions remain about the gunman’s history.
“This is an individual who just recently was off probation for a gun offense and in the exact same area. We know that he had his probation extended a couple of times and not sure why, and I’d like to know that,” Nessel said.
Also unknown is how the gunman obtained his firearm, how long he’d been on campus before shots broke out and whether he knew anyone at the campus.
Meanwhile, as police serve search warrants and delve into the gunman’s background, five students remain in critical condition and the campus community is still reeling from the hours of terror that unfolded Monday night.
The attack at MSU left students dead and wounded across two different campus buildings and sent terrified students running, barricading in classrooms, or jumping out of windows as hundreds of officers converged on the sprawling university in search of for the gunman.
A caller’s tip led officers to the suspect more than three hours after the first shots were fired. Police said the tipster pointed them to the gunman’s location 17 minutes after they released surveillance photos of him.
The campus shooting came hours before the five-year anniversary of the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. It also marked the 67th mass shooting – with four or more shot, not including a gunman – so far in 2023, according to data from the Gun Violence Archive.
There have been 12 school shootings so far this year, according to a CNN tally. The shooting at Michigan State marks the first at a college or university this year.
A search warrant was executed on a residence connected to the suspect, but authorities are not yet confirming if it was the shooter’s residence or what they found there.
The suspect’s father said about 30 police officers came to his house and went through his son’s bedroom following the shooting. McRae had lived with his father in a small house in Lansing, Michigan.
Court records show the suspect was arrested in 2019 and charged with a felony for carrying a concealed weapon without a permit. He later pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor for possession of a loaded firearm and spent a year and a half on probation.
McRae was discharged from probation in May 2021, the court records show.
Ingham County Prosecutor John J. Dewane released a statement on McRae’s history, saying “It is a routine matter in nearly all criminal cases that the recommended sentence is not the same as the legal maximum. Even if he were convicted by a jury of the original charge, Anthony McRae would not have been recommended for a jail or prison sentence.”
Michael McRae said his son grew reclusive when his mother, Linda, died.
“Ever since my wife died, my son began to change,” Michael McRae said. “He was getting more and more bitter. Angry and bitter. So angry. Evil angry … He began to really let himself go. His teeth were falling out. He stopped cutting his hair. He looked like a wolf man.”
The father said he believed his son had obtained another gun but kept it in his room and denied to his father that he had it.
Authorities have said they recovered a weapon, but they have not determined if it was the one used in Monday’s shooting.
The gunfire on campus set the stage for a painfully familiar scene: terrified students barricading classrooms with furniture, jumping out of windows and running out of buildings as numerous 911 calls poured in from the grounds.
“We now have a complete generation that has grown up with this, many times over, from elementary school all the way up to now,” East Lansing Mayor Ron Bacon said. “They live with this the entire time.”
One MSU parent said his daughter, Emma, has survived two campus school shootings in less than 15 months.
When gunfire broke out at Oxford High School in November 2021, Emma, hid inside the band hall of Oxford High School where others had barricaded the door. The students eventually fled out of an exterior door to a store in the area, her father Matt Riddle said.
Months later, the 18-year-old found herself hiding from a gunman once again, this time at MSU.
Emma told her dad that she and her roommate shut the lights off, closed the window, barricaded the door, and hid under their desks after they received the MSU alert about shots fired.
“Tonight, I am sitting under my desk at Michigan State University, once again texting everyone ‘I love you’ When will this end?” Emma tweeted Monday.
The shooting at MSU spurred chaos and confusion across the campus of 50,000 students – where over 19,000 students live – for three hours before police announced the suspect was dead.
MSU student Claire Papoulias, 19, told CNN she was inside a classroom the suspect shot into Monday night.
“The teacher was presenting a lesson and all of sudden I heard gunshots directly behind me. That’s when the shooter opened the back classroom door and started firing at my classmates in the back, wounding them. I smelled and saw the gunpowder,” Papoulias said.
“I thought I was going to die,” she said, describing huddling on the ground with her classmates before the gunman left.
Students then smashed open a window to help everyone escape while others tended to the wounded, with one student using his shirt to try and stop the bleeding, Papoulias recalled.
University police identified the slain students as junior Arielle Anderson, sophomore Brian Fraser and junior Alexandria Verner.
After Clawson Public Schools Superintendent Billy Shellenbarger learned of Verner’s death, he described her as “everything you’d want a student to be.”
“Her kindness was on display every single second you were around her,” said Shellenbarger, who is friends with Verner’s family.
Anderson and Fraser graduated in 2021 from high schools in Grosse Pointe, school superintendent Jon Dean said Tuesday.
Fraser served as the president of the Michigan Beta Chapter of Phi Delta Theta, the fraternity said in a statement. He was a leader and a great friend to his brothers, the Greek community and the people he interacted with on campus, the fraternity said.
Anderson was pushing to graduate early from MSU to become a surgeon as quickly as possible, her family told CNN affiliate WDIV.
“As much as we loved her, she loved us and others even more,” Anderson’s family said in a statement to WDIV. “She was passionate about helping her friends and family, assisting children and serving people.”
Dean lamented the violence and loss of life.
“How is it possible that this happened in the first place, an act of senseless violence that has no place in our society and in particular no place in school?” Dean said. “But then, it touched our community not once, but twice.”