Florida

FSU shooting victim tells harrowing tale of survival

Florida State University students hold candles during the Gathering of Unity candlelight vigil on campus after the shooting of three FSU students earlier in the day on November 20, 2014 in Tallahassee.
Florida State University students hold candles during the Gathering of Unity candlelight vigil on campus after the shooting of three FSU students earlier in the day on November 20, 2014 in Tallahassee. Getty Images

The first bullet hit Elijah Velez’s bicycle.

It was just before 12:30 a.m. Thursday and the Florida State freshman was finishing up an English project. He stepped outside into the freezing November night and walked over to the bicycle rack.

That’s when he spotted the gunman.

“He attacked the two people who were standing in front of me, and after that, he went toward me,” Velez recalled.

In an exclusive interview with the Herald/Times, Velez recounted the harrowing minutes when he came face to face with Myron May, the 31-year-old man who went on a shooting spree at FSU Thursday before being shot dead by police.

Velez, an 18-year-old from Miramar, was one of two shooting victims identified on Friday by authorities. The other, 21-year-old Farhan Ahmed, was in critical condition at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital. A third victim, Nathan Scott, a 30-year-old library employee, was identified Thursday. He remains at Tallahassee Memorial in good condition.

When Velez noticed May, the gunman opened fire. The first bullet bounced off Velez’s bike and sent him to the ground. A second shot came closer, grazing his side near the front of his stomach.

Velez immediately got on his bike. He didn’t realized he’d been struck. Instinctively, he took a quick look behind him.

“All I saw was that when everyone was running out of the library, [the gunman] sat down on the bench and was waiting,” he said.

With students streaming out of the library and scattering around him, Velez pedaled back to his dorm. He found his resident adviser and a police officer.

Velez, a biochemistry major and graduate of Everglades High School, said he was stunned something like this would happen during his first term at college.

“It was definitely scary,” he said.

He wasn’t feeling much physical pain Friday, he said. “I didn’t feel it at all during [the shooting],” he said.

On Friday night, he boarded a bus headed back to Broward County to be with family. He told the Herald/Times in a cell phone interview from the bus that he plans to stay through Thanksgiving.

Velez called the shooting a freak event, and said he has no intentions of transferring schools. Still, he concedes it has been tough to process what happened that night.

“I just try not to think about it, or replay anything in my mind,” he said.

Velez and the other victim were identified the same day as more disturbing details emerged about the shooter’s mental state.

Hours before opening fire on campus, May mailed at least 10 packages to acquaintances who he hoped would expose what he believed was a conspiracy against him.

One of those packages was sent to Houston and was secured by federal investigators Friday morning, FBI Special Agent Shauna Dunlap told the Herald/Times.

Dunlap said the Tallahassee Police Department is still the lead agency in the investigation so she could not release many details, but the package did not contain a “hazardous threat to the public.” She declined to say if it was sent to a residential or business address.

It’s not clear who May intended to receive the packages, but several people were warned to expect something in the mail soon.

Joe Paul, of Alexandria, Va., told media outlets Friday that he was called by a postal inspector who alerted him that he had received a package. He said he wasn’t told what was inside except that it wasn’t dangerous.

Paul told CNN that May had asked him and eight others for their mailing addresses in a Nov. 15 Facebook message.

“I really thought it was a wedding invitation or something,” he said. “On Wednesday at 9:53 [p.m.], he said y’all should receive your packages Friday. Then I went to sleep and woke up to tragedy.”

Law enforcement officials told Abigail Taunton to be on the lookout for any packages arriving by mail in the next few days, her daughter told the Times/Herald.

“She was told that if we get any package, report it immediately to the authorities,” Diana Taunton said at noon on Friday. “But so far, we haven’t received anything.”

The Taunton family knew May as a teenager and allowed him to stay at their guest house in Wewahitchka, Fla., when May recently returned to Florida from Texas.

NBC also reported that May had sent several emails, texts, and phone calls saying he believed government “stalkers” were harassing him. In an email sent only an hour before the shooting, he wrote: “I’ve been getting hit with the direct energy weapon in my chest all evening. It hurts really bad right now.”

In a voicemail, he told an acquaintance: “I do not want to die in vain.”

May graduated from Florida State in 2005 and earned a law degree at Texas Tech University. He worked as a lawyer in Texas and New Mexico before returning about three weeks ago to Florida. He has family in Ohio, where he was born.

May posted on his Facebook page links to information on alleged government mind-reading and he believed the government was spying on him. He made rambling statements to police and a former girlfriend. He abruptly quit his job and headed back to Florida, staying with friends and giving no hint about his violent plans until early Thursday when he headed to his alma mater.

Police said May was in a paranoia-fueled “state of crisis” when he showed up to the FSU library with a .380 semiautomatic pistol.

Investigators were also sifting through evidence at the library, where a barrage of 30 rounds were rounded up Thursday for ballistics testing.

On Friday, Leon County State Attorney Willie Meggs said that all three victims had been shot by the time police arrived.

FSU Police Chief David Perry also said Friday there is “no evidence’’ that any of the victims were shot by officers responding to reports of a gunman opening fire at the main library.

Meggs said his office will conduct a grand jury investigation of the shooting — as it does with all police shootings — in about a month.

So far, at least, Meggs said the shooting appears to be justified.

The police “were being shot at and they returned fire,” he said when asked who shot first.

Herald/Times reporter Michael Van Sickler contributed to this report.

Contact Kathleen McGrory at kmcgrory@MiamiHerald.com.

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