FORT MYERS, Fla. – Gunfire erupted at a nightclub hosting a swimsuit-themed party for teens in Florida, leaving two teens dead and at least 17 other people wounded, officials said Monday.
It was not immediately clear what triggered the violence, but authorities said the shooting was not an act of terror. Police detained three people and were searching for others, interim Police Chief Dennis Eads said.
The slain teens were 14-year-old Sean Archilles and 18-year-old Stef’an Strawder, police said. Archilles lived about a mile from the nightclub and loved to play football and basketball, said his father, Jean Archilles.
“He liked to make people laugh. He’s a funny kid. He’s always joking,” Jean Archilles said.
Strawder starred on the basketball team for Lehigh High School, averaging more than 15 points a game as a junior, according to The News-Press.
“Everyone was afraid to play against him because he was so good. He would guide you and give you advice on how to step up your game and how to guard him and things like that,” said 16-year-old Peyton Hebon, who started playing against Strawder in travel basketball leagues in sixth grade.
Strawder was always positive and energetic and was unstoppable on the court, Hebon said.
Four people were in the hospital. Two were in critical condition and two in fair condition, said Lisa Sgarlata, the chief administrative officer at Lee Memorial Health System.
All of the other patients were treated and released. The victims ranged in ages from 12 to 27.
“It’s horrible when these things happen,” Gov. Rick Scott said at an afternoon news conference. He noted that the state is currently seeing a 45-year low in the crime rate.
There were two active crime scenes – the club and a street in the area, which also remained closed as police investigated.
The club is in a strip mall that includes a day care center and is across the street from a large apartment complex. The shooting happened about 12:30 a.m. Monday, just as the club was closing and parents were arriving to pick up their children.
Syreeta Gary told WFTX-TV her daughter ran to avoid being shot. Her daughter was OK, but her daughter’s friend “got hit in the leg and luckily it’s just her leg,” she said.
“Her dodging bullets and running, dropping in between cars, it’s ridiculous that these kids have to go through this,” Gary said. “They can’t enjoy themselves because you have other people that have criminalistic minds and they just want to terrorize things.”
Club owner Cheryl Filardi, who said she was in the back room when the shots rang out, said at least 10 security guards were hired for the party – two in the parking lot, one or two at the door and the rest floating inside.
She said the club has had four or five teen parties over the past half-dozen years, and this was the second one this summer. She said the parties are something positive for a rough and often-violent neighborhood.
“To be honest with you, every day someone’s getting shot in this area. These days in Lee County, somebody’s always shooting,” Filardi said. “If we do teen parties, we always have a ton of security and we’ve never had a problem.”
Law enforcement removed some of police tape by Monday morning, allowing the media and public to get closer to the entrance to Club Blu.
There were bullet holes in concrete planters and wooden support beams. Sheriff’s evidence markers were still affixed to the holes. The letter “A” was attached near a post, while nearby “L,” “M,” “N” and “O” were marked near a planter filled with scraggly foliage.
Tasha Grant said her son grew up with Strawder and that the two had been friends since they were 5 and they played on the city football team together. The talented athlete often spent the night at her house. He was a typical teen boy, who was quiet and loved pizza and was being scouted by colleges, she said.
“He was like a son to me ... Looking at it on the news this morning it just broke me. I’m really hurt. It hurts so bad,” she said, adding she had to then break the news to her son.
State records online show the alcohol license for Club Blu was revoked June 7 because of an incident that occurred a year ago, but there were no additional details available, according to records from the Department of Business and Professional Regulation. The same records show that a complaint was filed in 2014 for “criminal activity” and that the club was given an official notice.
The shooting comes more than a month after a nightclub shooting in Orlando that was the deadliest shooting in modern U.S. history. The shooting at the Pulse nightclub on June 12 left 49 victims dead and 53 others wounded.
Associated Press writers Tamara Lush, Gary Fineout and Kelli Kennedy contributed to this report.This story has corrected the hospital official’s title to chief administrative officer, not CEO. It also has corrected the victim’s first name to Stef’an, not Ste’fan, and noted that he, not Archilles, was a star on the high school basketball team.