The players blissfully forgot about the problems of the real world, deeply engrossed in the virtual world of competitive gaming.
Perhaps their biggest worry was whether they would win the Madden tournament in Jacksonville, Florida, and earn the chance to compete for the big prize money in Las Vegas.
But just as a game kicked off, real gunfire erupted. Shooting victims screamed in agony. And those sounds were streamed live online for gaming fans to hear.
The horror Sunday marked the latest mass shooting in Florida — this time at a tournament for competitive players of the popular Madden football video game.
Participants had gathered at the Jacksonville Landing complex, an open-air marketplace with stores, bars and restaurants along the St. Johns River.
David Katz, a 24-year-old gamer from Baltimore, Maryland, was in town for the tournament at GLHF Game Bar, in the back of a pizza restaurant. On Sunday, he brought a gun into the venue and opened fire, killing two people – Taylor “spotmeplzzz” Robertson and Eli “trueboy” Clayton – and wounding nine others. Then he turned the gun on himself, Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams said. Police have not released a possible motive.
Two people were injured fleeing the area, Williams said. The victims were all in stable condition at local hospitals, the sheriff said.
Shortly after 1:30 p.m., 911 calls started pouring in about a shooting, according to Williams.
The horror that unfolded was captured on an online stream of the event, posted the website Twitch. The game abruptly stopped after several shots were heard.
People screamed. One person cried out, “Oh f**, what’d he shoot me with?”
Officers were on the scene within two minutes.
Rya Aleman said he huddled in the bathroom for 10 minutes and ran from the scene.
“I’m still shocked, I can hardly talk,” he told CNN.
Firefighters training nearby respond
Seven members of the Jacksonville Fire Station 1 — known as “The Rock” — were doing routine training in a parking garage across the street from the Landing, when dozens of people came running out, said Randy Wyse, president of the Jacksonville Association of Fire Fighters.
One person pulled up their shirt, showing where they had been shot in the chest, Wyse said. A second person with gunshot wounds followed shortly behind them.
As four firefighters administered first aid, three others ran toward the Landing, Wyse said, and flagged down a police officer.
They started treating people and found the three victims, including Katz’s body.
Hours after the shooting, authorities said, agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and FBI and Baltimore Police searched Katz’s family home in Baltimore.
Gunman in 2017: ‘I’m one of the better players’
Katz went by the gaming naming “Bread” and previously won Madden tournaments in 2017, multiple gamers told CNN.
In February 2017, the Buffalo Bills tweeted out a picture of him after he won the Madden 17 Bills Championship. “Congrats to David Katz, the Madden 17 Bills Championship winner! Thanks for following along, Bills fans,” the tweet read.
In an interview after the win with former Buffalos Bills player Steve Tasker, Katz talked about his prowess.
“I think personally I’m one of the better players,” he said.
Another mass shooting in Florida
Florida has seen several mass shootings in recent years: a gunman killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland earlier this year; five people were gunned down at the Fort Lauderdale airport last year; and 49 were shot dead at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando in 2016.
“We have got to change,” Gov. Rick Scott told reporters Sunday night. “We’ve got to really stop and say to ourselves: there’s something wrong.”
“Why are young men willing to give up their life, or why don’t they value somebody else’s life?” he said. “We’ve got to figure this out.”
Former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was seriously wounded in a mass shooting, said the nation’s attention turns to Florida, again.
“The nation once again looks to Florida with grief and heavy hearts,” Giffords, who co-founded a gun violence prevention organization, said in a statement.
“The massacre in Jacksonville is a tragic reminder of the threats we face from gun violence, no matter who we are or where our day takes us,” said Giffords. “And it’s yet another devastating indictment of this country’s inability to keep our kids safe.”
EA Sports, a video game developer and publisher, condemned the shooting as “a senseless act of violence.”
CompLexity Gaming founder and CEO Jason Lake told CNN that the shooting may make the growing eSports industry reconsider security at events.
One of the company’s gamers, a 19-year-old who goes by Drini, was shot in the thumb but managed to escape and is going to be fine, Lake said.
“To have someone walk into an event like this that’s all about good sportsmanship and teamwork and just good vibes, and do something like this, it’s heartbreaking,” he said. “I think the e-sports industry as a whole is going to have to step back and take a look at further strengthening our security.”