A Miami man visiting Fort Myers for the annual ZombiCon event was killed when gunfire broke out Saturday night, sending hordes of zombie-dressed revelers screaming and stampeding.
Fort Myers police Lt. Victor Medico said Expavious Tyrell Taylor died at the festival and four others were hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries. One other person was injured, but refused medical attention.
The shooting began around 11:45 p.m., moments before the event’s official end at midnight. Police cleared the streets of panicked revelers, wrapped the scene in crime scene tape and patrolled the area for a suspect.
Taylor, 20, was attending ZombiCon with his girlfriend, Jasmine.
Taylor, who went by his middle name, loved football. While attending Clewiston High School in Hendry County, he wore No. 66 on the varsity football team. At the time, he was six-foot-four and 240 pounds.
Taylor’s football career continued, along with his education, at ASA College Miami, where he was an offensive lineman — No. 68 — on the school football team. The campus is in North Miami Beach, and the team plays home games at Ted Hendricks Stadium at Milander Park in Hialeah.
The head football coach at ASA, Ernest Jones, was with Taylor’s family and his girlfriend on Sunday as they mourned. He said Taylor was full of energy and excitement, and the team is in shock.
“He was the kind of guy who’d smile ‘til dark,” he said. “He’s got 100 brothers hurting right now.”
Jones said Taylor’s life was a hard one, with the loss of his father when he was a child, his mother while he was in middle school, his grandparents and recently, his infant son.
“For a guy who’s been through so much before 20, you’d never know it,” Jones said.
News of his death caused an outpouring of grief, love and support on social media. Friends posted about Taylor’s big heart, upbeat attitude and devout faith.
A friend of his, Tameir D Treadwell, shared a screenshot of her text conversation with Taylor early Sunday morning, where she pleaded with him to answer his phone.
“We had plans & made promises,” she wrote. “So I’ll be waiting for ay (sic) text back soon.”
Hours later, her page showed a photo of her and Taylor at his graduation. He’s clutching a handful of graduation-themed balloons.
Text alongside the photo reads: “Ain’t no pain like missing somebody who never coming back.”
Authorities told The Associated Press that the suspect is still at large. Police did not release any information about a motive.
“There were a lot of witnesses down here, there were a lot of people taking pictures, videos with their cellphones,” Medico told the News-Press of Fort Myers. “Anything that could help with this investigation would be greatly appreciated.”
Two videos that circulated on social media showed packed downtown streets filled with laughing zombies and thumping music quickly turning to chaos at the sound of four gunshots. People turned and ran, screaming. The other video, which appears to have been made moments later, shows a body on the ground. A woman in black screams and curls up on the ground nearby, shaking and wailing. The video has since been deleted.
Police did not immediately return The AP’s email and phone messages on Sunday seeking additional details.
The annual festival had been expected to draw more than 20,000 fans dressed as zombies, the News-Press said. Medico said the scene was described as “shoulder to shoulder.”
Jill Stancel said she heard the shots and then saw people running from the downtown barbershop owned by her family. She and her family let several frightened people inside the shop, where they quickly locked the door.
“I was right here,” she said. “A mass of people ran screaming and trying to get in the shop.”
Stancel grew up in the area and said she doesn’t think the downtown area is dangerous, but said the shooting will be in her mind at future events.
“There are people dressed up and some walking around with guns. How do you know they aren’t real? Any event I come to, this will be in the back of my mind.”
A statement on the ZombiCon Facebook page said organizers were saddened by the news and the group takes the safety of its patrons very seriously.
ZombiCon has been a popular event for nearly a decade, but some residents and business owners have not welcomed the crowd of costumed revelers in the street dressed as limping, bloated, degrading corpses. One restaurant posted signs warning visitors that ZombiCon participants were not welcome. “Quarantined. No Zombies allowed,” the signs read.
Several members of a religious group also picketed the weekend event.
Mayor Randall P. Henderson Jr. released a statement saying officials were reviewing surveillance videos from restaurants and shops to help them find suspects.
This report was supplemented with material from The Associated Press.