FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) — When the gunshots rang out, Jill Stancel watched as a crowd of face painted, fake blood-spattered ZombiCon revelers ran through the streets in terror. She quickly gathered her family and several passing strangers inside her family’s barbershop and locked the door.
“I was right here,” Stancel said of the shooting in downtown Fort Myers, Florida, that left one dead and five injured. “A mass of people ran screaming and trying to get in the shop.”
Saturday’s chaotic scene sent throngs of crowd goers running through the streets. The shooting happened around 11:45 p.m., just 15 minutes before the event officially ended. Large crowds were still in the streets and authorities quickly cleared out nearby bars and set up crime scene tape, while others patrolled the area with rifles searching for a suspect.
Fort Myers Police Lt. Victor Medico said Expavious Tyrell Taylor, a 20-year-old who played football at ASA College, a junior college in Miami, died at the scene. Four others were taken to the hospital with non-life threatening injuries and one additional victim refused medical attention, authorities said.
Authorities said the suspect or suspects were still at large and did not release any information about a possible motive. They were reviewing surveillance videos from nearby restaurants and shops in search of clues.
“There were a lot of witnesses down here, there were a lot of people taking pictures, videos with their cellphone,” Medico told the News-Press. “Anything that could help with this investigation would be greatly appreciated.”
Police did not immediately return email and phone call messages on Sunday seeking more details. Medico told reporters the agency had been inundated with national media requests and would not be making any comments “as we tirelessly investigate this incident and gather as many facts as possible.”
Jasmine Gaure, Taylor’s girlfriend, told the newspaper they had only been at the festival for about 45 minutes when gunshots rang out. They were standing in line for a drink and hit the ground with everyone else when they heard the shots. When everyone raised their heads a few minutes later, Taylor was motionless, still wearing his creepy clown mask.
Gaure, 26, said Taylor was interested in forensic science and had worked a funeral home preparing bodies for burial to get experience. He was hoping to become a mortician.
“He was heading in the right direction, he was going to be somebody,” Gaure said.
ASA football coach Ernest Jones told the newspaper Taylor “stood out.” He was a walk-on player and was one of 6 out of 200 who made the cut in an August tryout.
Jones added that Jones had a “smile that will change your whole life.”
The annual festival had been expected to draw more than 20,000 fans dressed as zombies, the newspaper said. Medico said the scene was described as “shoulder to shoulder.”
A statement on the ZombiCon Facebook page said organizers were saddened by the news and the group takes the safety of its patrons very seriously.
ZombiCon has been a popular event for nearly a decade, but some local residents and business owners have not welcomed the crowd of costumed revelers in the street dressed as limping, bloated, degrading corpses. One restaurant posted signs warning visitors that ZombiCon participants were not welcome. “Quarantined. No Zombies allowed,” the signs read.
Several members from a religious group also picketed the event this weekend.
Mayor Randall P. Henderson Jr. said the shooting would speed up plans to install security cameras throughout downtown. The ZombiCon shooting is the latest of several shootings, which the mayor said are difficult to prevent because they are often random and late at night. Yet he said the cameras would make it easier to catch criminals quickly.
“Sadly, we’re moving in that direction. We need to be way more vigilant to keep citizens safe,” he said.
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