A gunman has killed two people and wounded five others at a yoga studio in Florida’s capital before killing himself on Friday evening.
The man shot six people and pistol-whipped another after walking into the studio, which is inside a small Tallahassee shopping center, said Tallahassee police chief Michael DeLeo. The suspect then fatally shot himself, DeLeo said.
Police later identified the gunman as Scott Paul Beierle, 40, and the shooting fatalities as Dr Nancy Van Vessem, 61, and Maura Binkley, 21.
Florida State University president John Thrasher said Van Vessem and Binkley had ties to the university. “To lose one of our students and one of our faculty members in this tragic and violent way is just devastating to the Florida State University family. We feel this loss profoundly and we send our deepest sympathies to Maura’s and Nancy’s loved ones while we pray for the recovery of those who were injured,” Thrasher said in a statement.
DeLeo said police were asking for anyone who saw anything unusual around the time of the shooting to contact police. He said the shooter acted alone.
“We’re all very saddened and shocked by the events that occurred, but it’s important that people understand that there is no immediate threat outside of what has already occurred this evening,” DeLeo said.
Capital Health Plan, where Van Vessem worked as chief medical director, called her a “guiding, visionary force”. In a statement it said: “Her dedication, caring, leadership, humanity, and experience made her one of the most respected, inspiring, and accomplished medical professionals in the state and country. Our hearts are filled with sorrow and prayers for her family. We all have been so blessed to have Nancy in our lives.”
The city commissioner, Scott Maddox, visited the scene of the shooting. He said on Facebook: “In my public service career I have had to be on some bad scenes. This is the worst. Please pray.”
Elle Welling said she was leaving a liquor store across the street from the shopping center and saw at least three people loaded into ambulances.
“You don’t think about this in Tallahassee and now you have to,” said Welling, 26, who lives in the neighborhood.
The plaza is home to popular restaurants, a jewelry store, a framing shop, a hair salon and other businesses.
Erskin Wesson, 64, said he was eating dinner with his family at a restaurant located below the yoga studio when they heard the gunshots above them.
“We just heard ‘pow, pow, pow, pow,’” Wesson said. “It sounded like a limb falling on a tin roof and rolling.”
The restaurant’s owner came by a short time later, asking if anyone was a doctor, Wesson said. His stepdaughter is an emergency room nurse and helped paramedics for about an hour, he said.
Tallahassee’s mayor, Andrew Gillum, who is the Democratic nominee for governor, tweeted that he was breaking off the campaign trail to return to Tallahassee. He earlier appeared at a campaign event with Barack Obama.
“I’m deeply appreciative of law enforcement’s quick response to the shooting at the yoga facility in Tallahassee today. No act of gun violence is acceptable. I’m in close communication with law enforcement officials and will be returning to Tallahassee tonight,” Gillum tweeted.
The Republican governor, Rick Scott, who is challenging the Democratic senator Bill Nelson for his seat, called DeLeo and the head of the Florida department of law enforcement to get details of the shooting.
“I will remain in constant communication with law enforcement. We have offered state assistance,” Scott tweeted.
Tallahassee’s crime and murder rate has been an issue in the governor’s race, with Gillum’s opponent, the Republican former US representative Ron DeSantis, calling the capital Florida’s most crime-ridden city, a claim that is incorrect.