By Joey Cappelletti and Michael Householder
The gunman who killed three students and wounded five at Michigan State University was a 43-year-old with a previous gun violation who fatally shot himself after an hourslong manhunt that ended in a confrontation with police miles from campus, officials said Tuesday.
Investigators still were sorting out why Anthony McRae fired inside an academic building and the student union shortly before 8:30 p.m. Monday. The shootings led to a harrowing campus lockdown and a search for the gunman that ended roughly three hours later.
“We have absolutely no idea what the motive was,” said Chris Rozman, deputy chief of campus police, adding that McRae, of Lansing, was not a student or Michigan State employee.
Meanwhile, a school district in Ewing Township, New Jersey, closed for the day after being informed that McRae, who lived in the area years ago, had a note in his pocket indicating a threat to two schools there. But it was determined there was no credible threat, local police said later in a statement shared publicly by the superintendent.
The dead and injured in the gunfire at Berkey Hall and the MSU Union, a popular place to eat and study, were all Michigan State students. Five remained in critical condition at Sparrow Hospital, said Dr. Denny Martin, who fought back tears during a news conference.
“This is still fluid,” Rozman said. “There are still crime scenes that are being processed, and we still are in the process of putting together the pieces to try to understand what happened.”
Two of the dead were graduates of separate high schools in the Grosse Pointe district in suburban Detroit. One was identified by Michigan State as Brian Fraser, president of Phi Delta Theta fraternity; the other was not publicly disclosed yet. Alexandria Verner, a graduate of Clawson High School in the Detroit area, also died.
“If you knew her, you loved her and we will forever remember the lasting impact she has had on all of us,” Clawson Superintendent Billy Shellenbarger said in an email to families.
The shootings took place in an area of older, stately buildings on the northern edge of the Michigan State campus, one of the nation’s largest at 5,200 acres. Just across busy Grand River Avenue lies East Lansing’s downtown, teeming with restaurants, bars and shops.
“Our Spartan community is reeling today,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Michigan State graduate, said at the morning briefing.
President Joe Biden pledged his support during a phone call, she said.
“We mourn the loss of beautiful souls today and pray for those who are continuing to fight for their lives. ... Another place that is supposed to be about community and togetherness is shattered by bullets and bloodshed,” Whitmer said.
Michigan State has about 50,000 students, including 19,000 who live on campus. As hundreds of officers scoured the campus, about 90 miles (145 kilometers) northwest of Detroit, students hid where they could Monday night.
At 11 p.m., McRae was still at large when he turned up on school security cameras, and his image was quickly released to news media. An “alert citizen” recognized him in the Lansing area just minutes later and contacted police, Rozman said.
"We had no idea where he was at that point,” the deputy chief said.
Officers confronted McRae about 5 miles (8 kilometers) from campus in an industrial area, where he killed himself, Rozman said.
McRae was on probation for 18 months until May 2021 for possessing a loaded gun in a vehicle, according to the state Corrections Department.
A large police presence was in his Lansing neighborhood overnight. Suzanne Shook said she has lived a block away from McRae for about a year.
"We never spoke to him,” Shook said. "When he would be walking or riding his bike, he was always straightforward and wouldn’t look at anybody.”
Students, meanwhile, recalled the previous night's terror. Dominik Molotky said he was learning about Cuban history around 8:15 p.m. when he and the other students heard a gunshot outside the classroom. He told ABC’s “Good Morning America" that a few seconds later, the gunman entered and fired three to four more rounds.
“I was ducking and covering, and the same with the rest of the students," Molotky said.
Claire Papoulias, a sophomore, described on NBC’s “Today” how she and other students scrambled to escape a history class through a window after the gunman entered from a back door and began firing.
“As soon as I fell out of the window I kind of hit the ground a little. I just grabbed my backpack and my phone, and I remember I just ran for my life,” she said.
All classes, sports and other activities were canceled for 48 hours. Interim university President Teresa Woodruff said it would be a time “to think and grieve and come together.”
The shooting happened the day before the fifth anniversary of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting that killed 17 and is the latest in what has become a deadly new year in the U.S.
Dozens of people have died in mass shootings so far in 2023, most notably in California, where 11 people were killed as they welcomed the Lunar New Year at a dance hall popular with older Asian Americans.
In 2022, more than 600 mass shootings occurred in the U.S. in which at least four people were killed or wounded, according to the Gun Violence Archive.
Associated Press writers Ed White and Corey Williams in Detroit contributed to this report.
UPDATES: This version has been updated with more details about the timeline and tip that led police to gunman; some material has been trimmed.