Forgotten story of singer’s legacy, man who killed her

Author: Associated Press
Published: Updated:
(Christina Grimmie / Facebook / MGN)

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) – Christina Grimmie strutted across the stage, belting out song after song to hundreds of fans as a man lingered in the back of The Plaza Live theater, watching and waiting.

He dug his hands into the pockets of his black jeans as he leaned against a wall. He tugged nervously at his red, white and blue plaid flannel shirt and adjusted his new black baseball cap.

After the show, he got in line behind dozens of other fans who wanted to meet the vivacious 22-year-old singer. He shifted his weight back and forth. Soon, it was his turn.

Christina opened her arms to greet him with a hug. In return, he pulled out a black 9 mm glock and fired five shots, hitting her three times at point-blank range.

He pulled out a second handgun and fired a single, fatal shot into the left side of his head.

The shooting shocked the nation – for a day.

The next night, 49 people were gunned down at the Pulse nightclub, and two days after that, a small boy was dragged into a lake and killed by an alligator at Walt Disney World.

Attention shifted away from the gruesome killing at The Plaza. Six months after the death of the songbird who loved her family, her fans, God and video games, the question remains: Why did Kevin James Loibl, 27, travel more than 100 miles from St. Petersburg to shoot “The Voice” singer?

Police and court documents, family and witness interviews, photographs and video obtained by the Orlando Sentinel reveal how the lives of the troubled man and the talented YouTube star intersected.

Christina and her brother, Mark, piled into their double-decker tour bus with the band “Before You Exit” after another show. She stripped off her makeup, got into sweatpants and started playing her Nintendo DS.

While on tour, Mark played guitar for her, worked as road manager and made sure she ate breakfast every morning. They goofed around constantly and even sported player 1 and player 2 video game tattoos on their inner arms.

“There were little clashes like ‘God, you take forever in the bathroom,’ but in general, people always thought it was weird we never fought,” said Mark, 23. “It was nice to have a sister who was also my friend.”

Although her jaw-dropping vocals brought her mainstream fame, she was just as well-known in the gaming world, especially when it came to Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda series, using the YouTube user name “zeldaxlove64.”

While on the road, they both had the support of their parents, Bud and Tina Grimmie. Even at a young age, Christina’s musical inclinations were obvious.

“When she was a baby … she wouldn’t talk, but she la, la, la’d,” Tina Grimmie said. “And when she was getting a bath, I would tell her to sing for Jesus.”

Initially, the gifted soprano was an introvert and shied away from the attention of her gift.

Mark helped bring her out of her shell and soon, that nervousness was replaced with confidence, fueled by her success in her YouTube videos that she started posting in 2009.

Christina and her family moved from New Jersey to California while she was still in high school to chase her dreams, even as Tina was undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer.

“There were plenty of sacrifices, but they weren’t even really sacrifices because we loved her and believed in her and wanted her dreams to be a reality,” Mark said.

Her fame rose in 2014 during the sixth season of NBC’s “The Voice” – she placed third.

Though Christina was well known for her covers of hit singles, she still craved her own breakout hit. She was working on some new music, hoping to finally reach her goal of having a song on the radio, though her EP, “Find Me” did well on iTunes.

Her fan base grew to nearly 1 million Twitter followers. YouTube became a home for her to share her talent with her 3.5 million subscribers.

Kevin Loibl became one of them.

Like Christina, Kevin, 27, was a natural introvert and gravitated to video games.

But their lives were poles apart.

One of his only friends, Cory Dennington, recalled the “semi-abusive household” during police interviews, saying Kevin told him his mother beat him with a frying pan, threw dishes at him and broke his brother’s arm.

Nora Loibl died at their St. Petersburg home in 2010 of an aspirin overdose, which was ruled accidental. But Dennington told police that Kevin, who was 21 at the time, blamed himself for her death because he encouraged her to kill herself, telling her to “go ahead, do it.”

His mother’s death only intensified the turmoil in Kevin’s life.

His father, Paul Loibl, started dating a new woman. Over a two-year span, police were called six times about fights between the two, often involving alcohol and violence. Loibl filed for two separate domestic violence injunctions against her.

Kevin often retreated to his bedroom, withdrawing into video games and computers, covering the windows with aluminum foil and a comforter to block out the light. Sometimes he wore ear plugs to avoid loud noises.

Dennington, who grew up with Kevin, got him a part-time job at Best Buy.

But Kevin was awkward with people. Managers moved him around to different departments over the eight years he worked there, settling on him working on computers for the “Geek Squad” to reduce his interaction with customers.

He attended St. Petersburg College for three years but dropped out in 2010, months before his mother’s death, after he became obsessed with playing World of Warcraft, a multi-player fantasy online role-playing game.

He never showed an interest in girls. Until he discovered Christina on YouTube.

The bus rolled into the City Beautiful a little before noon.

It was Christina’s last concert before a break to go home to Los Angeles to see her family and dog, Chloe. Plus, she had snagged VIP tickets for the upcoming E3 gaming expo, a gamer’s dream.

Before long, the crew began moving equipment to The Plaza Live stage. Christina donned her black high-heeled boots, a black wraparound skirt and a belly shirt.

Christina and Mark ran to the next door shopping center and savored a few slices of cheese pizza at Tomasino’s.

Mark set up the merchandise table in the back of the theater, laying out black posters with Christina’s name and her most recent album, along with shirts plastered with her face and their tour dates.

Soon, it was show time. Mark strapped on a red electric guitar and took the stage with Christina, performing a cover of Drake’s “One Dance” as their opening song.

After the show, Christina and the guys greeted fans who had backstage passes. She said a prayer, thanking God for helping make her dreams come true.

Then it was time for her favorite part. One by one, near the merchandise table, she signed autographs, took photos and talked with fans about her music.

Kevin saw Christina sing on YouTube in 2015 and slowly fell into an obsession.

In his mind, the beautiful gamer was a perfect match, but he wanted to improve himself for her. He lost 50 pounds, got LASIK eye surgery, had his teeth whitened and got hair implants to cover up his receding hairline.

Christina’s devout Christian faith even sparked a change in his beliefs.

“He was impressed that she was a Christian and he told me that she changed him, like she helped him see the world in a different way and that … if there is a God, he sees it in her,” Dennington told police.

By April 2016, Dennington realized that the obsession wasn’t healthy and pulled aside their boss at Best Buy to express concerns. But Kevin wasn’t acting out at work, so there was nothing they could do.

It wasn’t long after that when Kevin’s delusions started down a concrete, violent path.

In the weeks before Christina’s show, he bought a $15 ticket and purchased two guns, waiting patiently through the five-day waiting periods before he picked up the firearms and took them back to the home he shared with his brother, father and his father’s girlfriend.

On his last day working at Best Buy before the show, Kevin returned some borrowed science magazines to Dennington.

Later, Kevin pulled him aside, grabbed him by the shoulder and told him, “I love you, brother.” He said he was tired and “ready to ascend.”

Back at home in his bedroom, Kevin packed a Nike drawstring backpack: toiletries, his new guns, a 5-inch hunting knife and three boxes of bullets, totaling 75 rounds.

Before he left, he took the hard drive out of his computer and hid it.

Then he called a cab. At 1:30 p.m. on June 9, he arrived at the Courtyard by Marriott on Magnolia Avenue in Orlando, paying his cab driver $200 for a round trip and settling into his room with $16 worth of food from the hotel snack bar.

In the morning, he stuffed most of his belongings in his backpack and placed them in a safe beneath a television in the hotel room. He kept out both guns and the knife, tucking his wallet and the concert ticket in his pocket.

Kevin clipped two nylon gun holsters to the inside of the back of his jeans. He wrapped a cloth around his left ankle, then strapped the knife around it.

He made his way over to The Plaza Live, stopping at a nearby Old Navy to buy a black hat, and got in line. Teenage girls and their mothers had their purses checked, but he breezed through the entrance, passing a sign prohibiting firearms from the venue.

He picked a spot far from the stage, kept his head low, crossed his arms and watched.

As Mark sat behind the shirts at the merchandise table after the show, he spotted Kevin at the end of the line.

He stuck out, appearing to be nearly double the age of the young teen fans.

“Christina never judged anyone, so it didn’t matter what someone looked like or if they acted weirdly, she just had this way with people. Everyone loved her and we literally never had a problem with any fan. Nothing,” Mark said.

As the last fan cleared, Kevin approached Christina. He didn’t say anything, so Christina opened her arms for a hug. It was her trademark way to break the ice if she thought a fan was too shy to greet her.

That’s when he pulled out one of the guns and fired.

The first shot echoed in the theater and everyone looked around, thinking it was the workers popping balloons that had been released during the show.

Mark looked up, saw Kevin with the gun and his sister falling to the ground. Another four shots sounded as Mark tackled Kevin.

“I wasn’t afraid. There wasn’t any time for fear; it was my first instinct to tackle him, so that’s what I did,” Mark said.

Others in the theater screamed while racing for the exits. Some tripped as they ran and hurt themselves.

Mark continued to scuffle with Kevin on the floor, ripping part of his flannel shirt.

“I looked, and she (Christina) was on the floor and I just remember screaming bloody murder and jumping on him, then hitting him,” Mark said.

He wrestled the gun away from Kevin, just feet away from where his sister lay dying. Somehow Kevin managed to get out of Mark’s grip. He backed up against a wall and pulled out his second gun.

Mark looked up at him and thought, “this is the end.”

Kevin pushed the firearm to the side of his head and pulled the trigger.

For a second, Mark looked around.

“It was like a nightmare. Everyone was gone. I’m the only one there and I’m sitting on the floor with two bodies,” he said.

Mark McDonough heard the commotion from backstage as he escorted fans to meet his three sons who make up “Before You Exit.” He peeked from behind the curtains. Fans scattered and two bodies came into view.

The 56-year-old doctor rushed over to Kevin, who was lying in a puddle of blood that had seeped from the merchandise tables to the stage. He was already dead.

McDonough ran over to the second body and recognized the outfit. “Oh my God, it’s Christina!”

He bent down and she tried to take a breath. He felt a weak pulse, then lost it and started CPR. Emergency crews rushed her to Orlando Regional Medical Center, where she died.

That’s when Mark got a phone call from their father. He wanted to see how everything was going.

He was out of breath, but kept muttering “Dad, Dad, Dad!”

Then he had to deliver the terrible news.

When Orlando Police Det. Michael Moreschi picked up Christina’s family from the airport, they wanted answers. They couldn’t understand how or why this happened.

Even though Kevin’s exact motive remains a mystery, the more Moreschi found out about him, one thing became clear: Kevin didn’t get the mental care he needed.

“It’s so often we see this. People who are undiagnosed getting a weapon and causing harm to themselves or others,” he said, adding there were a lot of clues to Kevin’s mental instability.

“It’s the things you see in hindsight like how secluded he lived, the lack of social skills, and the people close to him didn’t really realize it was anything violent, but he had an unhealthy and abnormal obsession with her,” Moreschi said.

More answers might be found in his hard drive, but it’s still missing. Detectives also couldn’t access Kevin’s cell phone because it was protected by a password.

Kevin’s family told police they hadn’t heard of Christina or had any idea that he’d bought guns.

“I’m still really distraught by it,” his father, Paul Loibl, told the Orlando Sentinel.

Christina’s family will soon mark their first Christmas without her.

“I mean, it’s definitely hard and I have my moments, but I know there’s nothing that could have prevented this from happening,” Mark said.

Her family has released several songs, including a string of music videos that premiered on Billboard. They still have a lot in the works.

“I feel very blessed, because tragedies happen every day and people are left with nothing,” Mark said. “Christina left behind video, pictures, records so we have so much to hold on to and it helps us cope because it feels like she’s still here with us.”

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