LANSING — The gunman who killed three students and injured five others at Michigan State University on Monday had a history of mental health challenges, run-ins with police and guns charges, according to court records and family and neighbor accounts.
Police say Anthony Dwayne McRae, 43, of Lansing shot and killed himself as he was confronted by officers early Tuesday, about 5 miles from the campus he terrorized.
His death came more than three years after he was arrested on gun charges that, had they been penalized to the maximum degree, could have prevented him from legally owning guns.
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In 2019, McRae faced a charge for illegally carrying a concealed weapon — a felony that includes a lifetime ban on weapons possession — but he was allowed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor and the charge was dismissed.
Just last year, McRae fired a gun out the back door of his Lansing home, causing one neighbor to call the police on him, several neighbors recalled.
Bridge Michigan has filed public records requests for police reports related to McRae, who neighbors say kept to himself.
As of late Tuesday, police didn’t respond to the request.
Police say McRae killed sophomore Brian Fraser and Arielle Diamond Anderson, both of Grosse Pointe, and junior Alexandria Verner of Clawson.
After McRae killed himself, police found a note in McRae’s pocket that “indicated threats” to two public schools in Ewing, New Jersey, the hometown of McRae’s deceased mother and residence of surviving relatives, according to a news release from the Ewing Police Department.
Investigations revealed McRae had a history of mental health issues, the Ewing department said.
McRae had “no affiliation” with MSU, deputy police chief Chris Rozman told reporters in a Tuesday morning briefing.
“We have absolutely no idea what the motive was at this point,” he said.
Here is what is known about McRae, his interactions with police and Lansing code enforcement officers.
The 2019 arrest
On June 7, 2019, a police officer found McRae smoking on the back steps of an abandoned building at 1:55 a.m. and approached him for questioning, according to court records obtained by Bridge Michigan via a public records request.
McRae acknowledged to the officer he had a .380 semi-automatic pistol — which was registered to him — without a concealed carry permit, court papers show.
The police officer said he searched McRae and found a loaded gun in his pants pocket and a loaded magazine in his upper-breast pocket.
McRae told the officer he had left his house around 1:30 a.m. to go to the nearby Quality Dairy convenience store, according to an affidavit. Before leaving his house, he put the gun in his pocket “for protection,” despite knowing he should not have carried it without a concealed carry permit, records indicate.
He said he bought the gun in March 2019 at Capital Discount, a discount store in Lansing, and was trying to obtain a concealed carry permit.
A question of charges
McRae was charged with a felony punishable by up to five years in prison in district court but later pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of misdemeanor punishable by up to two years in circuit court.
He was put on probation in 2019 and was discharged from it in 2021. The plea deal was offered under then-Ingham County Prosecutor Carol Siemon, who in 2021 pledged to limit the use of felony firearm charges because she said they disproportionately affect Black residents.
As part of the plea deal, McRae agreed to “forfeit the firearm possessed in this incident,” documents show.
It is “completely common” for people to enter plea deals for a lesser charge, said April Zeoli, policy core director of the Institute for Firearm Injury Prevention at the University of Michigan.
“Part of the logic behind it is that it helps the court systems move cases along more quickly instead of having to have every single case go to trial,” Zeoli told Bridge on Tuesday.
The difference in charges would not have changed the jury’s sentencing recommendations to the judge, Ingham County Prosecutor John Dewane said in a statement Tuesday.
“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,” he said in his statement.
But a felony conviction would have made a difference in McRae’s right to own firearms, according to gun policy researchers.
Under current state law, a convicted felon is prohibited from legally owning a gun for life whereas the same restriction does not apply to someone with a convicted misdemeanor, Zeoli said.
Michigan is one of 36 states with laws to restrict felons from legally possessing firearms and one of 31 states to do this indefinitely, according to gun research group Everytown Research and Policy. Only 15 states have laws prohibiting people with violent misdemeanors from possessing guns, according to the group.
But even if Michigan applies restrictions to people with misdemeanor convictions, it is hard to say whether it would have effectively prevented the Monday night shooting.
“Clearly we can all sit here and say, ‘He should not have been offered a plea deal because this (shooting) happened years later,’” she said. “Many people take plea deals and don’t end up shooting up a campus.”
McRae had four counts of driving while his license was suspended, said Chris Gautz, spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Corrections.
Court records indicate he had several run-ins with local police for speeding, driving without insurance and other motor vehicle offenses. He pleaded guilty to those charges in Eaton County in 2006 and 2008 and in Ingham County in 2007 and 2008.
He also had a string of debts that prompted court-ordered collections between 2005 and 2010, according to LexisNexis, an online database of public records.
Public records indicate McRae lived in a 960-foot wood frame house on the northern part of Lansing that was owned by Michael and Linda McRae. Linda McRae, Anthony McRae’s mother, died in 2020.
The house has a large yard that is overgrown and was littered with statuary and trash on Tuesday.
Records show the city of Lansing cited the house for code violations regarding trash and weeds nine times between 2013 and 2022, the most recent in October. In 2008, the city billed the owners over $21,000 for trash removal on the property.
Megan Bender lives next door. She heard about the shooting Monday night and began listening to scanner traffic, only realizing it was the quiet man who lived next door with his father when police listed the suspect’s name and address over the scanner after saying he had fatally shot himself.
After that, police showed up en masse in the neighborhood and took his father, Mike, away.
Bender said McRae had moved into the small red house with his father, Mike, some time ago. They had never interacted — he was quiet, she said, but there was one incident last summer when a neighbor called the police because he was shooting a gun out the back door of the house.
The police, she said, “didn’t do anything” about it.
But Mike, she said, is “a really awesome guy” who is retired from General Motors Corp. and a Christian who went to church every Sunday.
“He doesn’t have a mean, you know, part in his soul,” she said.
He and Linda were scrappers, and would travel the neighborhood in a wood-paneled truck picking up metal from neighbors.
“Mike and Linda were known throughout the whole neighborhood,” she said.
Across the street, neighbor Heather Fleury said she awoke to the sound of helicopters overhead, then got a text from a friend asking if she was OK.
She said she met Anthony McRae once or twice, and often exchanged nods with him when he was out riding his bike. He was a nice enough guy, she said, but “he might have had mental problems.”