Miami-Dade County

Workplace violence, a national plague, comes to Equinox

A photo of Abeku Wilson lifting weights at Equinox, as posted on his Instragram feed.
A photo of Abeku Wilson lifting weights at Equinox, as posted on his Instragram feed. Miami Herald

One of the most exclusive fitness clubs in South Florida prepared to reopen Monday after the fatal shooting of two managers by an enraged trainer who was fired Saturday over a workplace altercation.

Equinox — a Coral Gables gym that draws entertainers, politicians and top business leaders — spent the weekend trying to sort out the next steps after losing two employees in a burst of gunfire Saturday. The lunchtime shooting within the Shops at Merrick Park mall sparked panic throughout the popular retail destination, with Equinox members fleeing the locker rooms in towels and customers at nearby restaurants and shops seeking shelter in storerooms and under tables.

The danger was brief: Police said trainer Abeku Wilson, 33, walked into Equinox shortly before 1 p.m. and shot his two supervisors, General Manager Janine Ackerman, 35, and Fitness Manager Marios Hortis, 42. Then Wilson — who police said was fired just before the shooting over a workplace altercation — shot himself with his handgun. Wilson died on the spot. Ackerman and Hortis died after being rushed to the hospital.

“Both victims were targeted,” Miami-Dade police said Sunday. “This was not an act of random violence.”

Read more: Scene of the latest workplace shooting, Equinox copes with death by a ‘former trainer’

The gunfire deaths added to a persistent string of homicides in an American workplace, a brand of violence that occurs more than once a day in a typical year, according to federal statistics. This time, the fatal shooting occurred in a $160-a-month fitness club that’s part of a national chain owned by Stephen Ross, owner of the Miami Dolphins.

“There is nothing I can say to lessen the searing pain we all feel at this terrible moment,” managing partner Harve Spevak wrote on the fitness chain’s Facebook page Sunday. “Yesterday’s tragedy at our Coral Gables location has impacted everyone in the Equinox family.”

Equinox’s email to members Sunday did not name Wilson, instead describing him as a “former trainer.” In interviews, Wilson’s clients and coworkers described him as a professional, reserved trainer with no outward display of temper or violence.

Computer records show two arrests for Wilson on what appeared to be relatively minor offenses: leaving the scene of an accident in 2011 and a charge usually tied to a missed court appearance in 2013. Civil court records show Wilson finalized a divorce in January.

The chronology behind the double homicide became a little clearer as police and company communications shared details of what occurred in the second-floor fitness club, which spans 35,000 square feet within The Shops at Merrick Park.

Authorities confirmed Wilson was fired Saturday in the run-up to the shooting. A release from Miami-Dade police said Wilson was dismissed “due to workplace violence.”

A police spokesman declined to elaborate, but a source familiar with the incident said the altercation behind the firing occurred days earlier at Equinox. The source described the incident as a “shouting altercation” that fell short of physical violence. In response to that incident, Equinox decided to fire Wilson, the source said.

On Sunday, Equinox dispatched grief counselors to the Biltmore Hotel about two miles from the gym, and encouraged both employees and clients to visit them. “Our entire Equinox family experienced a terrible tragedy yesterday when a former trainer walked into our club in Coral Gables and shot two members of our team,” the gym said in an email to members.

Hours after the shooting, Equinox CEO Niki Leondakis was placing calls to gym customers who had checked into the Coral Gables location before the shooting. A company source said Leondakis called more than 50 people. Company executives have declined interview requests.

Equinox, based in New York with 91 locations across the country and one in London, is part of Related, the company owned by Ross. (Related has loose corporate ties to the Related Group, a developer based in Miami.)

On Sunday evening, more than 500 people gathered at the Merrick Park courtyard for a vigil honoring Ackerman and Hortis. With the gym’s treadmills visible through the glass windows of Equinox above, mourners lit candles as company executives softly reckoned with the fatal shootings.

“We lost two of our own to needless violence,” Spevak told the crowd. “We want to celebrate both of them here, and open a dialogue that we hope we can all have as a company, and as a family, in the coming days.”

It was the second fatal workplace shooting this month in Miami-Dade alone. On April 3, an employee at the Chili’s in Miami Gardens, Lester Reid, died in a fatal shooting following a dispute with a coworker. The coworker’s boyfriend, Arturo Exum, was charged with fatally shooting Reid after his girlfriend allegedly summoned him to the restaurant.

The most recent federal data reported 417 workplace homicides in 2015, up 2 percent from the prior year. Workplace homicides by shootings were up 15 percent, the first increase since 2012, according to a December report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Interviews with Equinox customers and details from police reveal a tight timeline from morning confrontation to killing.

Wilson was seen having a relatively routine day at the gym Saturday morning. Around noon, he finished up an hour-long training session with publicist Eveliny Bastos-Klein, who said she made an appointment to see him again on Wednesday. “I didn’t notice anything amiss,” she said Saturday.

Police said the shooting happened at 12:55 p.m. A news release said Wilson was fired at Equinox that day, and “was escorted off the premises.”

It’s not known who escorted him out, but a company source said Ackerman and Hortis likely would have been involved in the dismissal as two managers supervising the facility. Police said Wilson didn’t stay away long.

“He then returned to the fitness center armed with a handgun,” the release said.

A gunman opened fire inside the Equinox fitness center at the Shops at Merrick Park early afternoon Saturday, leaving two dead and one person wounded at the upscale Coral Gables mall anchored by Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom, police said.