By Joe Skipper
FORT MYERS, Fla. (Reuters) – A shooting outside a party at a Florida nightclub that left two male teenagers dead and as many as 18 others wounded early on Monday was not an act of terror, police in Fort Myers said.
The latest burst of gun violence to wrack the state this summer occurred just after 12:30 a.m. EDT (0430 GMT) in the parking lot of Club Blu, which was hosting an event open to teenagers, the Fort Myers Police Department said in a statement.
Police said Stef’An Strawder, an 18-year-old basketball star at a local high school, and Sean Archilles, 14, were killed. Two other people have potentially life-threatening injuries, local hospital officials said.
Although police said they did not know the motive for the shooting, they confirmed in a statement that “this incident is not an act of terror (as it has been referred) or terrorism.”
Police said three people had been detained for questioning and that the area around the club was deemed safe, although roads in the vicinity remained closed.
Hospitals affiliated with the Lee Memorial Health System received 19 patients ranging in ages from 12 to 27 years from the nightclub shooting. Lisa Sgarlata, chief administrative officer for Lee Memorial Hospital, said an additional victim was pronounced dead at the scene.
Four patients remain hospitalized at Lee Memorial Hospital. Two have potentially life-threatening injuries and are in a surgical intensive care unit, Dr. Drew Mikulaschek told reporters at a news conference.
The shooting came six weeks after a massacre at a nightclub in the Florida city of Orlando, where a lone gunman who sympathized with Islamist extremist groups killed 49 people in the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.
Club Blu, located about 150 miles southwest of Orlando in the Gulf Coast city of Fort Myers, was hosting a “swimsuit glow party” for people all ages, according to a flyer posted on Twitter by local television station WINK. To enter, patrons were not required to show proof that they were the legal age to drink alcoholic beverages.
The nightclub said on its Facebook page that the shooting occurred when the venue was closing and parents were picking up their children.
“We tried to give the teens what we thought was a safe place to have a good time,” the statement said, pointing out that armed security guards were posted inside and outside the club. “It was not kids at the party that did this despicable act.”
In a video interview with local media, Syreeta Gary said her daughter and a friend ran for cover from the gunshots, seeking safety at a nearby apartment complex.
“Dodging bullets and running, dropping between cars, it’s ridiculous that these kids have to go through this,” Gary said in an interview posted on Twitter by a reporter for Fort Myers Fox affiliate WFTX. “They can’t enjoy themselves.”
Her daughter got out unscathed, but a bullet struck a friend in the leg, Gary said.
The teens who died both attended schools in Lee County, district spokeswoman Lauren Stillwell said. Archilles was due to enter the eighth grade at Royal Palm Exceptional Center, while Strawder was to start his senior year at Lehigh Senior High School.
Strawder’s mother, Stephanie White, told the News-Press newspaper that her son was shot in his right shoulder as he walked out of the club. His 19-year-old sister survived a gunshot wound in the leg, White said.
Police said shots were also fired at a nearby residence, where there was one minor injury.
Fort Myers police and the Lee County’s Sheriff’s Office were canvassing the area for other people who may have been involved, a police statement said.
(Reporting Frank McGurty and Laila Kearney in New York, Mary Milliken in Los Angeles and Letitia Stein in Tampa, Florida; Writing by Frank McGurty and Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Catherine Evans and Lisa Von Ahn)