Myron May, the 31-year-old Florida State University graduate who died in a hail of bullets with police early Thursday, was “struggling psychologically” and “in a state of crisis,”Tallahassee police said.
May was shot and killed by police after he returned to the library of his alma mater after midnight Thursday and started shooting students and a library desk clerk. Police say he acted alone.
“Mr. May had a written journal and videos where he expressed fears of being targeted and he wanted to bring attention to this issue of targeting,’’ said Tallahassee Police Chief Michael DeLeo at a news conference late Thursday.
“Preliminary review of these documents and videos demonstrate that Mr. May was in a state of crisis,” DeLeo said. His “sense of being” in the community “was not what people would say is normal status and he was searching for something.”
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The initial investigation by Tallahassee police and the FSU police department concluded that May had attempted to enter the library just before 12:30 a.m. on Thursday morning but never got past the front desk. He shot Strozier employee Nathan Scott in the leg, and then headed outside where he was immediately confronted by police.
What happened next is not clear, and police say is the timeline is still under investigation.
DeLeo said May aimed his gun — .380 semi-automatic handgun — at police after six police officers confronted him outside the library entrance. May was shot and killed in an exchange of gunfire. By mid-afternoon, however, DeLeo had modified his statement and was not prepared to conclude that May shot first.
“We’re still working on the shooting part,’’ DeLeo said. “We still have more witnesses to interview and that includes some of the officers that were involved in the shooting, so we don’t have all the facts of that investigation done yet.”
What is clear is that between the time the police were called at 12:25 a.m and the time May was shot at 12:27 a.m., he and police fired more than 30 bullets in the courtyard outside the library. Two FSU students were injured. One was grazed with a bullet, treated and released at the scene. The otherremained in critical condition at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital. Whether their injuries occurred before or after the police arrived is not known. None were identified.
“We are still counting rounds,’’ DeLeo said. “It’s very early in the investigation.”
The announcement that May was the shooter stunned those who knew him. Rep. Matt Gaetz, an FSU alumnus, sent out a Tweet that he knew May as an undergrad and he was shocked. “He was so kind,’’ Gaetz said. “This is just awful for everyone.”
May was born in Dayton, Ohio, in 1983. He moved to Florida as a teenager and graduated from Wewahitcka High School, 80 miles outside of Tallahassee. He graduated cum laude from FSU in 2005 with a major in economics and then moved to Texas where he graduated from Texas Tech law school in 2009.
May practiced law in Texas and New Mexico and moved back to Wewahitcka three weeks ago to stay with a family that had befriended him years ago, Abigail and David Taunton. The couple operate a foster home in the rural Panhandle town and May had been staying in their guest house.
“He’s just a boy our kids grew up with that we let stay in one of our guest houses for a while,” Abigail Taunton told the Associated Press. said. “He’s moving back home from Texas and we were trying to help him get on his feet. “It’s horrifying.”
DeLeo said Investigators searched Mays’ vehicle and his cell phone and interviewed 20-25 primary witnesses that witnessed the shooting but they have not found any clues as to why he chose Thursday to act or why he picked the Strozier Library as the place for his attack.
Mays had no prior criminal record, but FSU police reported that he had been suspected of marijuana use in 2002 and in 2003 was a victim of a vehicle burglary.
Documents show he had been experiencing financial problems, was considering declaring bankruptcy and friends said he had recently exhibited symptions of mental stress and paranoia.
DeLeo described the following timeline:
- May parked his car a few blocks away from the library and walked in with a 380 semi-automatic handgun with “additional ammunition in his pockets.”
- Mr. May started shooting students in front of the Strozier Library.
- “He then enters a front area of the library where he shoots one employee and tries to shoot another woman who’s affiliated with the university.
- At 12:25 a.m., FSU police received the initial call that there was a gunman in the library
- “He then reloads his gun. He never precedes past the security measures that are in place in the library. He never leaves the front lobby area.
- “He then exits the library where he is confronted by FSU police officers and Tallahassee police department police officers. He refuses to surrender and as a result of this encounter he is shot and killed by the officers.
- At 12:27, police report that May has been killed outside.
“He came outside on his own,’’ DeLeo said. “There were students outside the library in the courtyard area and there were some victims inside the front lobby area.”
He repeated his assessment that May acted alone. “There is no further threat to the students, the university, the workers or the community,” DeLeo said.
Officers from both the Tallahassee and FSU police forces that were involved in the shooting have been placed on admnistrative leave. They are:
- Tallahassee Police Officer Wayne Staats, with the department 3 years;
- FSU Sergeant Roy Wiley, 15 years;
- FSU Officer Daniel Cutchins, 2 years;
- FSU Officer Orenthya Sloan, 1 year and 5 months;
- FSU Officer Oma Nations, 1 year and 5 months;
- and FSU Officer Parise Adams, 1 year and 1 month.
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