'No one deserves to die over a video game': survivors recall chaos of Florida shooting

Witnesses of shooting at video gamers’ event in Jacksonville tell of moment gunman opened fire

A gunman who killed two people and wounded nine others before shooting himself dead at a video gamers’ tournament in Florida on Sunday was known to fellow players as an aloof and insular character who made little effort to make friends on the competition circuit.

Authorities in Jacksonville were on Monday looking into one theory that David Katz, 24, opened fire in anger after losing a match at the Madden NFL 19 tournament, an event themed on the popular American football video game that was taking place in a bar at the back of a pizza restaurant at the Jacksonville Landing shopping complex.

Katz, who was known by the gaming handle Sliced Bread, or just Bread, was a leading player on the popular game’s national tour and had won a satellite round of the tournament in Buffalo, New York, last year. But he had lost at least two games during the weekend event in Florida, forfeiting his chance to attend the national finals in Las Vegas in October. Players who beat him said he refused to shake their hands and was “acting weird” all weekend.

Other survivors of the shooting told of chaotic scenes as those caught up in the violence trampled over others in panic as they tried to escape.

One witness said she saw Katz as he fired while walking backwards.

“We did see him, two hands on the gun, walking back, just popping rounds,” said Taylor Poindexter, 26, who had been ordering pizza at the bar when she heard the first shot at about 1.30pm.

“I was scared for my life and my boyfriend’s,” she told reporters, standing on crutches after spraining her ankle trying to escape.

While police have not identified the victims, family members told Jacksonville CBS television station WJAX that the two people killed were Eli Clayton, from California, and Taylor Robertson, a husband and father from West Virginia. Both were tournament contestants.

Robertson was the winner of the tournament last year. Katz, from Baltimore, won it the year before, the Miami Herald reported, citing family and friends posting online.

“No one deserves to die over playing a video game, you know?” said Derek Jones, 30, a competitor from Santa Fe, New Mexico. “We’re just out here trying to win some money for our families.”

Jones said he was sitting in a patio outside the tournament venue when he heard gunshots and jumped over a fence to flee. “You know, I’m glad I lost today,” he said. “Because if I’d won, I would have been in that game bar right then playing a game and not paying attention. And he could have come and I’d probably be dead right now.”

Jones said he knew Katz by the gamer tags he used online, often “Bread” or “Sliced Bread”, and had played against him online but had never spoken to him personally.

Fellow players left tributes to both men on social media pages. “I hope their memories are respected through people learning and understanding what other people feel and other people are going through,” said Toshiba Sharon, the announcer at the event. “We are all one. We’ve got to address the people next to us and change.”

Coverage of Katz competing in the past showed him with headphones on and a poker face as commentators remarked on his attitude.

“He’s not here to make friends. He’s all business. He’s focused and to even get him to open up to talk about anything it’s like pulling teeth, man,” said one.

The Jacksonville sheriff, Mike Williams, said Katz, of Baltimore, Maryland, carried out the attack using at least one handgun at the Jacksonville Landing, a collection of restaurants and shops, before taking his own life.

The maker of the Madden game, EA Sports, lists a David Katz as a 2017 championship winner. Sunday’s competition was held in a gaming bar but viewers could watch the games online and see the players.

On Sunday evening, FBI and ATF teams searched Katz’s family home. Heavily armed agents, some in bulletproof vests and carrying long guns, could be seen entering a complex near Baltimore’s Inner Harbour.

The Jacksonville sheriff’s department was on Monday liaising with the federal agents, who had removed a small box and a bag from the residence where Katz lived with his divorced father.

Marquis Williams, the boyfriend of one of the witnesses, Poindexter, called for elected officials to take action to curb gun violence.

“Politicians, wake up because the people you’re supposed to represent are dying,” Williams said. “Quit sitting on your butts. Quit collecting checks and do something.”

Rick Scott, the Republican governor of a state that has seen several other recent mass shootings committed by lone male killers – at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school in February and Orlando’s Pulse nightclub in June 2016 – would not say if he thought gun laws needed tightening .

“The first thing people want to do is make it political,” he said at a late Sunday press conference. “We have got to change. Why are young men willing to give up their life, or why don’t they value someone else’s life? This is an issue that our society is going to have to deal with. We’ve got to figure out why this is happening.”

• This article was amended on 28 August 2018 to correct a reference to David Katz.

Contributors

Richard Luscombe in Miami and Ben Quinn

The GuardianTramp

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