A gunman shattered the calm of a crowded Florida State University library early Thursday morning, wounding three people, one critically, before he was shot and killed by campus police, authorities said.
The gunman walked inside the entrance to FSU’s Strozier Library about 12:30 a.m. and opened fire, Tallahassee Police Department spokesman David Northway told reporters at the scene.
The three victims were all students. Hospital officials say one of the students is in critical condition, the other is fair. A third student was “grazed” by a bullet and treated at the scene, Northway said. Their names have not been released.
Campus police confronted the gunman just outside the library building and ordered him to drop his weapon, Northway said. The gunman ignored the command and fired at least one shot at police officers. FSU police then shot and killed him.
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The shooter was identified as Myron May, an FSU alumnus and an attorney who received his law degree from Texas Tech, according to The Associated Press.
FSU President John Thrasher said in a statement that the shooting was an “isolated incident.” Northway said police “have no other indications to show there is a threat at this time.”
“The Florida State University community is extremely saddened by the shootings,” Thrasher said in the statement. “We are increasing security measures and providing a strong law enforcement presence on and around campus today.”
Tallahassee police are handling the investigation. They have blocked entrance to the building and crime scene and are interviewing students who witnessed the shooting.
The university canceled all classes Thursday and the library and much of the adjacent Landis Green remain closed as they conduct forensics tests.
Hundreds of students gathered on the lawn outside the FSU library on Thursday morning. Some wept openly. Others talked on their cellphones, assuring family members back home that they had not been hurt.
Around 10 a.m., the students began clasping hands and formed a single prayer circle. There was a moment of silence. Then, they broke out into a somber Seminole war chant.
Junior Tori Reiman, from Jacksonville, was among the first to speak.
"I pray, God, that you will make the students on this campus brave," she said, her eyes welling up with tears.
Mike Toluba, a pastor on campus, also spoke up.
"We pray that your spirit of love will radiate across our campus today, and that you will offer hope and strength in the face of confusion and sorrow," he said.
Toluba said he was planning another prayer service for the afternoon. An experience like this, he said, would almost certainly challenge students to question their faith. He was prepared to help guide them.
"We're just being present on campus," Toluba said.
About 400 students were studying in the five-story library when the shooting occurred and word traveled quickly as soon as the gunman was spotted, FSU Police Chief David Perry said.
Students are trained to “run, hide or fight,” Perry said, and some students “took shelter” under tables, others left the building quickly, leaving their computers, backpacks, keys and in some cases their shoes.
“At the time, Strozier Library — as you can imagine — was packed with students studying for final exams,’’ Perry said. He said they were still investigating how the gunman got into the library, and the motive.
“This person, for whatever reason, produced a handgun and then began shooting students in the library,’’ Perry said. “There were shots fired within Strozier Library and there were shots fired outside.”
Perry attempted to reassure families of students, saying “there is no concern for safety anywhere on campus.”
Jason Derfuss was in the Strozier Library Wednesday night to checking out a stack of books. Among them was Great Medieval Thoughts by the 14th Century English dissident, John Wyclif. When the gunman aimed and fired at Derfuss five feet away, the bullet missed the FSU senior and lodged inside the books, which were inside his backpack.
He never knew what happened -- until three hours later.
Derfuss described it with pictures on a public post on his Facebook page:
"Earlier tonight there was a shooting at FSU, right as I was leaving Strozier. I didn't know this at the time, but the Shooter targeted me first. The shot I heard behind me I did not feel, nor did it hit me at all. He was about 5 feet from me, but he hit my books.
"Books one minute earlier I had checked out of the library, books that should not have stopped the bullet. But they did. I learned this about 3 hours after it happened, I never thought to check my bag. I assumed I wasn't a target, I assumed I was fine.
"The truth is I was almost killed tonight and God intervened. I know conceptually He can do all things, but to physically witness the impossible and to be surrounded by such grace is indescribable. To God be the glory, forever and ever, Amen."
Witnesses described the scene inside the library as chaotic as students scrambled for safety in the freezing temperatures. Nearly three dozen police officers surrounded the area and many students were evacuated to an adjacent building.
An announcement was broadcast over the library intercom system and recorded by a student cellphone video, Fox Tampa Bay reported.
“There has been a shooting in the library. Stay where you are. We will be coming to each floor clearing, and taking care of anybody,” the voice said. “If anybody has a victim; if anybody has a shot, call 911 with your cell phone. If you have not been shot, or you don't know if someone was armed, do not call 911,” the instructions continued.
Students, who were inside the library at the time of the shooting, told the Miami Herald they heard about five to seven rapid-fire gun shots after hearing the first burst of gunfire. Police said they could not confirm how many shots had been fired by the gunman.
“I grabbed all I could and then I heard seven to eight rounds [of gunfire] go off. Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang!,” said Austin Bari, 18, of Plantation, who was studying on the first floor of the library.
Allison Kope, 18, of Cocoa Beach, said she heard a loud sound “like a bookcase falling” and later heard someone say “there’s a gunman.”
She said students then started filing out the doors of the library to go outside, triggering a fire alarm. Once outside, she said she heard several gun shots.
John Ehab, a sophomore from Tampa, told The Associated Press that he was on the library's third floor when he heard multiple gunshots.
"Everyone heard them," he said. People took cover in the book aisles to hide from the gunman in case he came onto the floor, Ehab said.
Stephen Moring, 18, of Miami, said he was studying on the first floor, but didn’t hear the first shots because he had earphones. After his friend alerted him to the possible gunman, he saw “a guy lying on the floor grabbing his leg and somebody yelled ‘gun in the building.’”
“We all started heading out the door,” Moring said. “I wouldn’t say we were panicked, but it was a state of confusion.”
“It’s the most scared I’ve ever been in my life,” he said. “It was horrifying.”
At 4:14 a.m., FSU officials sent an alert that the campus was secured and out of danger. They also plan to offer counseling to students on Thursday.
Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at meklas@MiamiHerald.com and @MaryEllenKlas