ZombiCon victim: “I didn’t know I was shot”

Author: Andrew Scheinthal, Adam Wright, Sam Smink and Stanley B. Chambers Jr.
Published: Updated:

FORT MYERS, Fla. – Tyree Hunter initially thought the gunshots fired during ZombiCon on Saturday were fireworks.

Then he felt pain in his left leg.

Others around him started running.

“I didn’t know I was shot at first,” said Hunter, 20. “I thought maybe I got hit with glass or something. But then my friend noticed that there were two holes and he was like ‘Maybe it went straight through.'”

Hunter, a junior at Florida Gulf Coast University, was one of six people struck by bullets after shots rang out during the annual downtown Fort Myers event. Expavious Tyrell Taylor, 20, of Okeechobee, was shot and killed outside Los Cabos Cantina on First Street at about 11:45 p.m.

Bullets also struck David Perez, 22, of Naples; Isiah James Knight, 18, of Fort Myers; Kyle Garick Roberts, 20, of Port Charlotte; and John Parsons, 31, of Fort Myers. Hunter and Perez suffered multiple gunshot wounds while Knight and Roberts were shot once, according to a police report. Parsons suffered a laceration from a gunshot wound, the report said.

Hunter talked about the incident on Monday from his Fort Myers home while standing on crutches. Medical gauze covered most of his lower left leg.

He was 50 feet away from Taylor when the shots rang out.

A bullet entered through the front of his calf and exited through the back, Hunter said.

“When I got to the ambulance and they told me I was shot, I started freaking out a little bit,” he said.

Ongoing investigation

Detectives have received numerous tips, which Fort Myers Interim Police Chief Dennis Eads described as “absolutely great.”

“Keep in mind, if you are taking video, snapping pictures of costumes, you may have inadvertently captured the suspect on that video or in¬†that picture,” he¬†said. “Either before or after. Wouldn’t be the first time a suspect returned to a crime scene.”

Investigators have not said if the shooting was random or was planned. Eads said detectives have heard both.

“I am very confident that we will find who did this,” he said.

A suspect description was released late Monday morning:

  • White or possibly Hispanic male
  • Late teens or early 20s
  • Last seen wearing a black t-shirt and a flat-billed black and red ball cap
  • Last seen firing a black semi-automatic handgun
  • Last seen fleeing westbound on First Street towards the federal courthouse

Authorities also released surveillance video from Los Cabos showing the crowds on First Street before and after the shooting. Detectives hope the video will help the public identify potential witnesses.

Lax security

Kasey Stephens and her boyfriend were walking towards Los Cabos when someone asked to take a picture with her.

“If the girl hasn’t stopped me to take that photo with her and see my face makeup, I would’ve been in the middle of that, and that’s absolutely terrifying,” she said.

Stephens, 22, described the aftermath as “mass hysteria” as people ran from the gunshots, including parents holding their children. About 20,000 people were estimated at the event.

“It was terrifying. You always think zombies, it’ll never happen,” she said. “Nothing’s scary, it’s all fake down here and then when you hear something like that and you see these people running towards you, you’re almost, you’re in shock and you just don’t know what to do.”

Bags and realistic looking weapons were not allowed inside the event, but Stephens said she saw people with both. Bags were also going unchecked, she said.

“There wasn’t too much security at the entrances,” she said. “It was ‘get your donation, here’s your wristband and go in'”

Security officers did the best they could for handling such a large event, Eads said.

“I think it was, at the very minimum, a nightmare,” he said. “Especially after the shots were fired. After that happened, then you have 15 or 20,000 suspects. When no one knew much of anything until things were calmed down.”

About 25 Fort Myers police officers were working with private security to patrol the event, said Angeli Chin, ZombiCon organizer.

“Unfortunately at the barricades, we can’t have every single barricade manned, so people were just coming in through the barricades off the street,” she said. “We had trained all of our entrance people not to allow any backpacks in or any realistic looking weapons in. They were asked to leave their backpacks, they were told to tell people in line that they had to leave their backpacks and their realistic looking weapons in their vehicles or just not come in.”

Saturday’s shooting has led to questions regarding whether the event has outgrown downtown.

“In some aspects, we think that it may have, but it’s all still under discussion,” Chin said. “There hasn’t been any finite decisions made as of yet, so we’re looking at all possibilities and maybe moving out of downtown is just one of them.”

Not returning

Regardless of where¬†next year’s ZombiCon will be, Hunter said he will not attend.

“Chaos, it’s chaos,” said Hunter, who added that he wanted to watch The Ohio State University play football instead of attending the event. “We knew that going down, but it’s really chaotic and anything can happen.”

Stephens, who has attended the event the previous six years, will likely skip next year’s ZombiCon.

“It’s something that I look forward to every year,” she said. “I plan my outfit and I plan for the theme and get everything set up months before and now it’s sad that I don’t get to go anymore because I fear for my safety.”

Chin hopes the shooting doesn’t stop others from attending downtown events.

“I really hope it doesn’t,” she said. “Downtown is a fantastic place to be. It’s a historic area. There’s beautiful things there’s wonderful things to do down here and it would be very bad if something like this would detract people from coming and experiencing the wealth and beauty down here.”

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