Gunman at Florida video-game event kills 2, injures 11, police say
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Investigators sought answers Monday, Aug. 27, about the gunman they said opened fire during a video-game tournament in Jacksonville, Florida, killing two people and wounding 11 others - nine with gunfire - before turning the gun on himself.
Police identified the attacker as David Katz, a 24-year-old from Baltimore. Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams said Katz was attending the competition, which drew professional players from around the world, but added that he did not know what motivated the shooting or whether Katz knew the victims.
The shooting rampage turned a Madden NFL 19 competition at the Jacksonville Landing, a popular riverfront gathering place in the city's core, into the latest public gathering suddenly shattered by gun violence. The spasm of violence also added Jacksonville, Florida's biggest city by population and size, to the grim roster of places thrust into the national consciousness following a burst of gunfire, a list that in the Sunshine State alone has recently included Orlando, Fort Lauderdale and Parkland.
Authorities said their investigation stretched from the edge of the St. Johns River cutting through Jacksonville to central Baltimore, where federal agents descended on a house late Sunday and spoke to Katz's neighbors.
In Jacksonville, a sprawling city in northeast Florida that has recently grappled with an uptick in homicides, residents and visitors alike sought shelter or fled after the gunfire began Sunday afternoon at the Landing, a complex of restaurants and shops.
Police said they received a 911 call at 1:34 p.m. Sunday alerting them to a shooting at Chicago Pizza, a restaurant in the Landing that was hosting the Madden 19 tournament. Officers arrived on the scene two minutes later, according to the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office.
Two victims were dead, police said, along with the gunman. Nine others had gunshot wounds, while two people were injured fleeing the area.
By Sunday night, two of the victims injured in the shooting remained in the University of Florida College of Medicine in Jacksonville, with one in serious condition. Four had been discharged from the university's trauma center in good condition, and an additional four were in stable condition after being treated at local hospitals.
Esports tournaments such as the Sunday event involve professional competitors vying for prize money in games that are often streamed to thousands of online spectators.
The financial impact for successful players can be significant. Prominent esports players carry endorsement deals and legions of fans, much like professional athletes do. Esports events and leagues are usually organized around a popular video game title. They include sports-based titles, such as Madden, as well as real-time strategy games, fighting games or first-person shooter simulations.
The Jacksonville event was a regional qualifier leading to an October final in Las Vegas, with a top prize of $25,000. It was unclear how many players were in the mall when the shooting occurred.
Competitors and their fans often form tightknit communities, discussing the intricacies of the game and the latest developments of leagues via online video platforms such as YouTube and Twitch, as well as social media. (Twitch, a gaming platform, is owned by Amazon.com. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.) Esports analytics firm Newzoo estimates the audience will reach 380 million people in 2018.
Video believed to be from a live stream of the competition on Twitch circulated on social media after the shooting. It showed a red laser dot briefly appearing on a competitor's sweatshirt before the camera angle switched back to the video game and more than a dozen gunshots rang out. The competitor has not been officially identified, nor have authorities said whether he was struck by gunfire.
Clay Taylor, an esports agent based in Ontario, Canada, said he recognized his client in the video.
"Once I noticed the laser on his chest I knew what happened," Taylor said in a direct message sent through Twitter. "I was so scared, angry and sad."
Danny Flaherty, a 22-year-old gamer from Britain, said he heard gunshots and that his "only thoughts" afterward were "to run."
Another player, Drini Gjoka, 18, said a bullet hit him in the thumb.
"I will never take anything for granted ever again," he said on Twitter. "Life can be cut short in a second."
Six shooting victims - described as males in their early to mid-20s - were treated at the University of Florida College of Medicine in Jacksonville, said Marie Crandall, the attending trauma surgeon. Four were struck in their torsos, while the other two were shot in the extremities. One victim is in serious condition, but all are expected to survive.
Three other shooting victims, now in stable condition, were treated at Memorial Hospital in southeast Jacksonville, hospital spokesman Peter Moberg said. A woman who was not shot but was hurt while fleeing was treated for minor injuries at Baptist Medical Center and released that same day, spokeswoman Cindy Hamilton said.
Police had not yet named any of the deceased or injured victims by Monday morning. On social media, members of the gaming community circulated the names of two gamers believed to have been killed in the shooting, including Taylor's client.
In Baltimore, agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) were searching a house Sunday evening. At 9 p.m., four ATF agents emerged from the house. One was carrying a small box, another a bag, which they loaded into an unmarked minivan.
Matt Munoz, 30, who works in information technology, and Cameron Stearns, 33, have lived next door to the Katz house for eight years. They said they saw David Katz when he was younger and in school but not so much as he got older. They said the last time they saw him was a month or two ago.
"It's not so much anymore," Stearns said as he and his roommate stood outside with neighbors and watched federal authorities. Stearns said they were eating dinner when they looked out a window and saw an ATF agent cradling an assault-style weapon.
Stearns said an FBI agent asked them questions including - he thought jokingly - whether any ammunition meant for Katz had ever been mistakenly delivered to his house.
Both said they rarely spoke to Katz's parents and hardly ever to David. "There's nothing remarkable about them," said Stearns, a special-education teacher. "There's not anything suspicious about them at all. We have lived here for a long time, and we never talk to them."
Munoz said an FBI agent showed him a picture of Katz. "I said, 'Absolutely that's him.' "
At 10:30 p.m., five police officials, including ATF agents, left the Katz home. They carried nothing. Nobody answered the door. An upstairs light turned off as reporters stood outside.
A neighbor, Jerry Knauer, said his wife last saw David Katz about two weeks ago. Knauer described the father as "a really nice guy." He added, "I feel sorry for him." Speaking of the shooting, he said, "it truly is a tragedy."
Knauer was out when authorities started to search the house around 6 p.m. They were escorted inside by ATF agents. Knauer said he knew nothing about David Katz.
The shooting unfolded amid a heated political season in Florida, one in which guns have become a significant issue in the ongoing gubernatorial and senate races.
Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry said the city had "faced an occurrence that is all too common."
"To all those watching, I say this: Pray for Jacksonville as we deal with this senseless tragedy," he said.
Rick Scott, the Republican governor running this year for the Senate, answered questions at a news conference Sunday night outside Memorial Hospital in Jacksonville and deflected queries about gun control, telling reporters that there was "no one easy answer" for reducing the number of mass shootings.
"The first thing people are going to go to is this political fight," he said. "But let's look at this. This young man and other young men, they're not valuing life. Something is causing that. As a society, we've got to figure this out. Every parent has got to say to themselves, what can I do better?"
Gun-control advocates seized on the moment Sunday to call again for action against gun violence. Parkland student David Hogg, who became a vocal gun-control advocate after 17 people were killed at his high school, tweeted to Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., on Sunday: "How many mass shootings in your state will it take for you to do something?"
This article was written by Antonia Noori Farzan, a reporter for The Washington Post.