Andrew Pantazi and Joe Daraskevich and Nate Monroe and Teresa Stepzinski and Tessa Duvall
The Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville
A 24-year-old Maryland man opened fire Sunday in the middle of a video game tournament at Jacksonville’s waterfront mall, killing two people, injuring 11 more, then killing himself, Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams said, a chaotic scene at a venue synonymous with downtown.
The shooting, which happened around 1:30 p.m., was connected to a Madden NFL 19 video game tournament at Chicago Pizza in the Jacksonville Landing. David Katz, from Baltimore, was the lone suspect, using “at least one handgun” on the victims and himself, Williams said. He would not confirm the motive for the killing, though one witness had said the impetus for the shooting was because Katz had lost the tournament.
The FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives visited Kat’s Baltimore address Sunday and impounded his car.
“We have faced an occurrence that is all too common,” Mayor Lenny Curry said. “At terrible times, we see the best in people, and today is no different.”
The tournament — which attracted players from across the country to Jacksonville to compete for a spot in a 16-player competition in Las Vegas — was shown on a video game live-stream service called Twitch, which captured what sounded like gunshots and screams in the background of game play. Those images and sounds captivated local and national media, and became a source of information for friends and family of the victims before police confirmed any details. Williams said investigators had seen the Twitch video.
At one point in the video, someone can be heard saying, “Oh f—. What did he shoot me with?”
The tournament included professional players, some of whom described the frightening scene and their injuries on Twitter. Drini Gjoka, one such player, said a bullet struck him in the thumb.
“The tourney just got shot up. Im leavinng and never coming back,” he wrote.
“Worst day of my life,” he wrote about 20 minutes later.
Jason Lake, founder and CEO of compLexity Gaming, a professional gaming company that Gjoka was a member of, said he was”cooperating with the authorities and we will be flying him out of Jacksonville as soon as we are given the green light from the officials on the ground.”
The shooting thrust Jacksonville into the troubled club of cities to experience a mass shooting during an event that was supposed to about entertainment.
Officials with UF Health Jacksonville, the top trauma hospital in the area, said they treated six victims ranging in age from 20-35, with one victim in serious condition. Some were hit in the torso, others hit in the ankle or wrist. Other hospitals also have patients.
“I heard a lot of gun shots back to back to back,” said Rome Williams, who was in the Landing when the shooting started.
Gov. Rick Scott spoke with President Donald Trump about the incident and traveled from Naples to Jacksonville on Sunday evening.
The shooting prompted an outpouring of concern and comment from public officials and candidates running for office in Florida from local races to U.S. Senate.
It was also a major disruption in what had already been a violent weekend. A triple shooting Friday night at the Lee vs. Raines high school football game — a well-known rivalry — killed a 19-year-old former Raines student and injured two others who currently attend Raines and Lee.
The copper-topped Jacksonville Landing — a sibling to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor — has long served as the iconic backdrop for downtown, even as visitors and its fortunes have lagged in recent years.
About three blocks were cordoned off around the Landing on Sunday in the hours after the shooting. A police helicopter hovered in the air, and Coast Guard boats patrolled the St. Johns River near the Landing. A SWAT unit at one point appeared to be operating a bomb robot on the sidewalk outside a nearby parking garage, though it was not clear why.
Several members of Jacksonville Fire and Rescue were conducting a training exercise across the street from the Landing when they saw people running out of the building, including one who had been shot. Four responders rushed in without protective gear. Officials added that police responded within two minutes of the first 911 call.
Michael Barlow was working out on the riverwalk outside the Landing when he heard the approach of sirens.
“We saw a bunch of people getting taken out on stretchers,” Barlow said. “I saw four people on stretchers and then two other guys getting carried. They weren’t on stretchers, they were just being carried.”
The waterfront mall still houses a handful of restaurants, including a Hooters Restaurant and Chicago Pizza, and holds concerts and occasionally political rallies on the outdoor pavilion that fronts the St. Johns River. City officials and boosters have pined for years to replace or majorly renovate the Landing, but those efforts have so far proven fruitless and left City Hall and the building’s owners locked in a contentious court battle.
The city owns the land upon which the buildings sit. Toney Sleiman, a longtime and outspoken co-owner of the Landing buildings, did not respond to a voicemail left on his cell phone Sunday.
This is not the first time violence has put an unflattering spotlight on the Landing.
A Martin Luther King Jr. Day shooting in early 2017 killed a 16-year-old boy — it was believed that was retaliation for a shooting that had happened earlier in the month on Laura Street during Art Walk, a street festival with vendors and musicians that attracts big crowds into downtown. In 2012, a Chicago Bears fan was stabbed to death inside Fionn MacCool’s, an Irish-themed restaurant in the waterfront mall.
Asked if security would increase at the mall, Williams said he would look into that issue in the coming days.
Times-Union staff writer Steve Patterson contributed to this report.
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