A shooting at Zombicon
It’s been over two years, a geographical move, and a career change since I last published on this blog.
I’ve decided to revive this as a place where I can write about the type of reporting I do now — crime. It’s messy and it’s heartbreaking. And after a year and a half of doing this, I realized this is a good way to deal with my own feelings about the tragedies I am faced with almost daily.
So I am going to start with something I wrote this weekend about a shooting that took place among a crowd of festival-goers at Zombicon in Fort Myers.
I was off the clock and spending time with friends, until the unthinkable happened.
This isn’t deeply edited, but here goes.
The section in front of the Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center was emptying.
The bartenders near the corner of Jackson and First streets were closed for the night.
We were headed to our next destination to continue the festivities.
But instead, we came across hundreds, maybe thousands, of people fleeing in our direction.
It felt like a stampede – though at the same time, an ill-timed prank because surely something like this could not happen.
People shouted about a possible shooting. It wasn’t until I saw tear-stained faces that I realized this was real. No prank could ever instill that much fear into a person.
I ran toward the commotion, dodging fleeing attendees as best I could.
I found a crowd forming a circle around a man lying on the ground. His hands clutched his stomach. A Fort Myers police officer kneeled over him, with his hands pressed to his wound, staunching the flow of blood.
Police officers began jostling the crowd and asking for room, enlarging the circle.
I felt relief because the victim was pleading for help when the paramedics arrived. His pleas brought me hope. If he was not yet unconscious, then maybe the crowd’s cries of death were because of despair, but not of reality.
I was wrong.
Paramedics lifted the man onto a stretcher and wheeled him to an ambulance. The stretch of First Street where his blood was spilled was cleared for his ambulance to drive through.
Police officers began to clear the area, yelling frantically that downtown was closed. The perimeter was widened and pushed northward to Bay Street. Police tape enclosed an area from Monroe, Jackson, Bay and Second streets.
As I walked on Bay Street, I came across a man who had a gunshot wound to his leg. He sat on one of the tables left behind from the festival. A police officer shooed me away before I could ask any questions.
People who slurred their words talked about what they saw and what they heard as I walked by.
Under the influence of liquor consumed all day, some mouthed off to police officers, telling them city police were worthless.
Police officers mostly ignored the belligerence, though I flushed red every time I heard it. Officers were positioned at every corner with rifles — the kind of firearm they bring out when a shooter in on the loose.
Most were kind, even to me, a media member with zombie make-up on and no real proof I was a reporter for The News-Press. I left my press pass in my car, which was stationed blocks away at our newsroom’s parking lot. I won’t make that mistake again because Saturday night taught me violence can break out in our city when least expected.
It would be hours before we could confirm a person was killed. None of our reporters who were at the celebration caught a glimpse of a body left behind.
We held on reporting what the drunken crowd claimed until police could confirm it.
But, police did confirm it.
20-year-old Expavious Tyrell Taylor, a football player from a Miami school, was killed. Five others were wounded – one refused medical treatment.
A night full of whimsy turned into a nightmare.