An already bloody weekend in Jacksonville turned immeasurably worse Sunday when at least three people were killed and 11 wounded in a shooting Sunday at a video game tournament at a waterfront dining and entertainment complex.
Among the dead was 24-year-old David Katz of Baltimore, a defeated contestant in the tournament.
Police say he killed himself after opening fire on other competitors. The two other victims are believed to be Taylor Robertson, 27, of Ballard, West Virginia and Eli Clayton, 22, of Woodland Hills, California.
Streaming video of the tournament captured the grisly soundtrack of 12 rounds of shots punctuating screams of wounded gamers and repeated wails of “Oh my God, oh my God!” As the shots end, several people shout “where did he go!?”
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The answer: not far. Witnesses reported on Twitter that he turned the gun on himself. Police later confirmed it and said he was the only gunman.
The video game murders stunned a city already reeling from Friday-night gun violence at a football game between local high schools that left one teenager dead and two others wounded.
But there appeared to be no connection between the two incidents. The Los Angeles Times quoted another gamer who said Sunday’s killer was a losing contestant at the Madden 19 NFL video-game tournament.
The shooter “targeted a few people” and shot at least five people, then turned the gun on himself, gamer Steven Javaruski told the Times.
“This is a horrible situation, and our deepest sympathies go out to all involved,” said EA Sports, which manufactures the Madden game.
Stephen Javaruski called it “the scariest thing I’ve ever experienced.”
“I heard the first pop and was pretty sure it was a gunshot,” Javaruski, 22, told the Tampa Bay Times. “Then the second shortly after, and I scrambled frantically to the bathroom with like 20 other guys.”
Twitter throbbed with messages from others at the tournament. “The tourney just got shot up. I’m leaving and never coming back,” wrote one gamer, Drini Gjoka.
Also online, at least for a while, was a short video clip from a live stream portion of the tournament. It showed Eli Clayton, wearing headphones and a red sweatshirt as he worked the control of his game. What appeared to be a gun’s red laser targeting dot was clearly visible on his chest. Moments later, he would be dead.
After a few gunshots, the video disappeared and all that remained was audio. The popular online live -streaming platform, called Twitch, soon deleted the footage but social media users had already captured it and all afternoon long it echoed across Twitter and Facebook.
Clayton was a highly successful gamer who didn’t take himself too seriously. “I’m really easy to get along with, I’m not a trouble maker,” he told EA Sports recently. “I’m always laughing and joking around. I’m just me, a cool dude. There’s really nowhere to go but up, honestly.”
Clayton hadn’t originally planned to compete in Jacksonville but — possibly swayed by the $165,000 prize in the tournament finals in October — tweeted just days ago that he had changed his mind.
Robertson, a husband and father, was the winner of last year’s Madden tournament. The winner the previous year: Katz, the man who killed him.
The shooting — which, police said, was carried out with a single handgun — started around 1:30 p.m. and police were on the scene with two minutes. Little was immediately known about Katz other than that he had stayed at a North Florida hotel the night before the shooting. Baltimore police were searching his home Sunday night.
The killings took place in a game room at a Chicago Pizza restaurant inside at the Jacksonville Landing, a half-empty waterfront shopping and dining complex in downtown Jacksonville. The gunfire scattered customers in all directions looking for places to hide.
“We are finding many people hiding in locked areas at The Landing,” the sheriff’s office tweeted two hours after said. “We ask you to stay calm, stay where you are hiding. SWAT is doing a methodical search inside The Landing. We will get to you. Please don’t come running out.”
The shooting at the video-game tournament was the second outbreak of gun violence in a bloody weekend in Jacksonville. On Friday night, one teenager was killed and two others wounded when gunfire erupted as a crowd exited a high school football game.
Jamel Edwards, 19, was killed, while two younger teens — a boy and a girl — were wounded.
Police said the football game shooting was all done by a single gunman, who they arrested. And they said it most likely related to street-gang feuding.
“The investigation has revealed the male victims have ties to known criminal street gang members,” a sheriff’s office spokeswoman told Jacksonville reporters.
The shooting started around 10 p.m. on a sidewalk outside the stadium where a crowd of about 4,000 was leaving a game between Jacksonville high schools Raines and Lee.
The game had already been marred by a fight in the stands so violent that play on the field had to be halted. That fight, though, had nothing to do with the shooting, police said. And there was no immediate evidence that the gunman had even been inside the stadium — about 50 police and security officers were there, using metal detectors to check everyone entering.
“Our security procedures for football games were in place,” said Duval County school Superintendent Diana Greene, who was in the crowd. “the incident, unfortunately, happened after the game was over.”
The back-to-back episodes of bloodshed left some citizens with the jitters. “We just had a high school football game shooting that killed one person and three injured. This is nuts!” posted Jacksonville florist Kristi Cantrell, who was standing in the parking lot with her son when the shooting at the gaming tournament began.
“We hear bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam! We were both like, what was that?” wrote Cantrell, who didn’t learn until later that the popping noises were not firecrackers but bullets. “Sorry to babble. This has really rocked my world.”