Downtown Miami

Gunfire in library causes chaos and panic as patrons hit floor and scramble to safety

Miami-Dade police work the main Miami-Dade Public Library as a crime scene after Wednesday’s shooting.
Miami-Dade police work the main Miami-Dade Public Library as a crime scene after Wednesday’s shooting. rkoltun@miamiherald.com

A simmering feud between two men led to gunfire, disorienting panic and calls to police of possible mass casualties at Miami-Dade’s main library on Wednesday.

In the end, only the gun-wielding man was shot — by a police officer who was off duty in uniform working at the downtown library. Dozens of patrons, some of whom witnessed the altercation, were led to safety.

Police credited that to quick-thinking Miami-Dade police officer Saul Rodriguez, a 17-year veteran who was working in the library at 101 W. Flagler St. just before 11 a.m. That’s when, police say, Roderick Oliver Veazey, 64, confronted Carl Cooperstein, 63, chased him and fired off at least two rounds.

Veazey was shot in the stomach and transported to the hospital. His condition is unknown. The two men knew earch other, police said. The bullets fired by Veazey miraculously missed the intended target and the library patrons.

The police officer “acted so calmly, so smoothly that he was able to engage the subject without putting anyone in danger,” said Miami-Dade Police Detective Alvaro Zabaleta

Hilario Pedregal said he was upstairs when he heard four shots — two he believes from the shooter and two others from the officer. When police got into the building they ordered Pedregal and others into a room where they were not released until they were interviewed.

“You could hear [the gunfire] throughout the entire building,” he said. “Everyone was wondering if they were shots or not.”

A 47-year-old man who said his name was Kevin was on the second floor of the Mediterranean-style library, which is next door to towering County Hall and across from the HistoryMiami museum. The shooting happened in the lobby on the first floor, just inside the entrance off the complex’s main elevated plaza.

The witness said he heard a brief but loud interaction between two men, then gunfire.

“I heard other shots and it was the police firing back,” he said. “I was working on my laptop. At first I dove on my stomach. Then someone said to come this way, but it seemed like that’s where the shots were coming from.”

Kevin said when he finally looked over the railing down to the first floor he saw the man who had been shot being taken away on a stretcher.

According to police and witnesses, the two men were inside the building at 10:41 a.m. when they began arguing loudly. A preliminary investigation indicated the fight was over a woman, a police source said.

“It was a fight that started several days ago and ended today,” Zabaleta said.

Then Veazey pulled out a gun, chased Cooperstein briefly and fired off at least two rounds.

Library patrons hit the floor. Officer Rodriguez did the opposite, police said: He ran toward the gunfire, took aim at the man with the weapon and shot him.

But in the first few minutes after the shooting, confusion reigned. Calls to police said there were several victims and an active shooter. Miami Fire Rescue showed up in force. The library went into a Code Brown — an evacuation plan used by police and government to counter mass shootings —and was locked down with adjacent streets closed off.

Then, Zabaleta said, first responders searched the library and secured it. Visitors were escorted out. A gun believed to belong to the shooting victim was recovered.

“We received calls of multiple people shot at the library. In reality, only one person was shot, the subject,” Zabaleta, the police detective, said. “This was not an act of random violence.”

Zabaleta said both men have spoken with police. Weapons are not permitted in the library, which does not have a metal detector. Cooperstein and Veazey, sources said, are regularly seen in and around the library.

Zabaleta said the library was closed for the day Wednesday and it will remain closed until 10 a.m. Friday. The Metromover stop closest to the library also was shut down to stop riders from getting too close to the crime scene.

Veazey was charged Thursday with attempted second-degree murder with a deadly weapon. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement — as it does with all Miami-Dade police-involved shootings — will take over the investigation.

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