New York , Aug 27, 2018 : At least three people are dead and 11 injured after a gunman opened fire Sunday afternoon during a video game tournament in Florida that drew professional players from around the world.
The gunman, who police said shot himself, was among the dead. Authorities identified him as David Katz, a 24-year-old man from Baltimore.
The shooting occurred at the "Madden NFL 19" competition at Jacksonville Landing, a popular waterfront shopping and dining area in the heart of downtown Jacksonville, Florida. Authorities said they received a 911 call at 1:34 p.m. alerting them to a shooting at Chicago Pizza, the mall restaurant hosting the tournament. Officers arrived two minutes later.
Jacksonville County Sheriff Mike Williams said officers found three people dead at the scene, including the gunman. At least 11 victims were taken to hospitals, nine with gunshot wounds and two who were injured while fleeing, Williams said.
Williams said the gunman was attending the competition and took his own life but added that he did not know the motive or if the shooter knew the victims.
Agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives on Sunday evening were searching a house in Baltimore identified in public records as home to the Katz family. At 9 p.m., agents emerged from the house, carrying a small box and 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 house for eight years. They said they saw David Katz when he was younger and in school but not as much as he got older. They said the last time they saw him was a month or two ago.
"There’s nothing remarkable about them," Stearns, a special- education teacher said about the family. "There’s not anything suspicious about them at all. We have lived here for a long time, and we never talk to them."
Stearns said an FBI agent asked them questions including whether any ammunition meant for Katz had ever been mistakenly delivered to his house. Munoz said an FBI agent showed him a picture of Katz. "I said, ’Absolutely that’s him.’ "
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. 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 and include sports-based titles, like Madden, to real-time strategy games, fighting games or first-person shooter simulations.
Competitors usually concentrate on one game or at least limit themselves to a certain genre.
The tournaments vary in size and scope, some running several hours at informal locations, while others span multiple days and pack professional stadiums for championship events that can carry prize purses in the millions. Others, like the Madden event in Jacksonville, are smaller tournaments leading up to larger events later in the calendar year.
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.
Players train regularly and rigorously for such events, with top professionals dedicating dozens of hours a week to practicing their preferred game. Some esports leagues have formalized player contracts that pay players an annual salary that ranges into the tens of thousands. The 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. Esports analytics firm Newzoo estimates the audience will reach 380 million people in 2018.
Electronic Arts, the digital interactive entertainment company in charge of the tournament, said it was aware of the shooting and cooperating with law enforcement.
"The tragic situation that occurred Sunday in Jacksonville was a senseless act of violence that we strongly condemn," the company said. "Our most heartfelt sympathies go out to the families of the victims whose lives were taken today and those who were injured."
"All of us at Electronic Arts are devastated by this horrific event, and we also join the community in thanking the first responders who were quickly on the scene."
Video believed to be from a live stream of the competition on the gaming platform 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 identified, and it’s unclear whether he was shot.
Danny Flaherty, a 22-year-old gamer from Britain, said that he heard gunshots and that his "only thoughts" afterward were "to run."
Another player, Drini Gjoka, said a bullet hit him in the thumb.
"I will never take anything for granted ever again," he wrote on Twitter. "Life can be cut short in a second."
Complexity Gaming, the company that sponsors Gjoka, said he ran down the street to a gym.
"We’re obviously shocked and saddened by this afternoon’s events. . . . He’s currently cooperating with the authorities and we will be flying him out of Jacksonville as soon as we are given the green light from the officials on the ground," Complexity Gaming founder and chief executive Jason Lake said in a statement.
Gjoka, who is from the Washington, D.C., area and attended Woodrow Wilson High School, told the school’s paper earlier this year that he made $120,000 playing Madden.
Six male shooting victims in their early to mid-20s were treated at the University of Florida College of Medicine in Jacksonville. Four of them were shot in the torso, said Marie Crandall, the attending trauma surgeon. The two others 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, spokeswoman Cindy Hamilton said.
All of shooting victims who were injured are in stable condition, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office said on Sunday night.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said President Trump was briefed on the shooting and was monitoring the situation.
Gun-control advocates seized on the moment Sunday to call for action against gun violence.
"My thoughts are with everyone impacted by the shooting today at the Jacksonville Landing - but thoughts are not enough," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said on Twitter. "As we continue to track developments, it’s clear Congress must stop stalling & act to protect Americans from the daily tragedy of gun violence."
The Jacksonville rampage is the latest shooting to erupt in a public place - a wave of violence that has extended nationwide. Florida has suffered a number of high-profile mass shootings in recent years. The gunfire at the "Madden NFL 19" competition came six months after a massacre at a high school in Parkland, Fla., that left 17 dead.
Parkland student David Hogg, who became a vocal gun-control advocate after the shooting there, tweeted to Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., on Sunday, "How many mass shootings in your state will it take for you to do something?"
National Rifle Association spokeswoman Dana Loesch, meanwhile, called for an end to gun-free zones and said security should be in place to keep people safe.
"A horrible tragedy. End gun free zones or have the security in place to keep people safe in them," she tweeted.
The Washington Post’s Peter Hermann, Martin Weil, Abha Bhattarai, Mark Berman, Mike Hume, Travis Lyles, Abby Ohlheiser, Julie Tate and Cleve R. Wootson Jr. contributed to this report.