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 country’s latest mass shooting — this time at the Jacksonville Landing complex, an open-air marketplace with stores, bars and restaurants.
David Katz, a 24-year-old gamer from Baltimore, Maryland, was in town for the tournament at GLHF Game Bar. He brought a gun into the venue and opened fire, killing two people and wounding nine others. Then he turned the gun on himself, Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams said. Police have not released a possible motive.
Confusion, chaos and bloodshed
Fans followed an online stream of the event, posted on the website Twitch. The game abruptly stopped after several gunshots rang out.
One person cried out, “Oh f**, what’d he shoot me with?”
Tony Montagnino told ABC’s “Good Morning America” he was the shooting victim who shouted those words.
“My first reaction, I heard the shots and I thought, ‘Why is there firecrackers in here?’ ” Montagnino said Monday.
“And then I actually got hit. And I’ve never been shot before. So I didn’t know what to think. And then I turned around and actually saw the flashes from the gun. And at that point (I) just went into survival mode, and I just wanted to make sure I was out of there.”
Ryan Aleman said he huddled in a bathroom for 10 minutes before running for his life.
“I’m still shocked, I can hardly talk,” he told CNN.
Two people were injured fleeing the area, the sheriff said.
Authorities have not released the names of the two victims who were killed, but their names have been widely reported by witnesses and gaming community members as Eli Clayton and Taylor Robertson.
On Monday, Memorial Hospital released the names of four surviving victims it treated:
— George Amadeo II, 17, is in good condition.
— David Echevarria, 28, was treated for minor injuries and released.
— Alexander Madunic, 27, is in good condition after a gunshot wound to the foot.
— Christopher McFarland, 31, is in good condition after a bullet graze to the head.
Timothy Anselimo’s mother tweeted a photo of Gov. Rick Scott visiting the wounded gamer at his hospital bed.
Anselimo’s mom also tweeted a photo of her son’s gaming backpack splattered with his blood.
Gunman said in 2017, ‘I’m one of the better players’
Hours after the shooting, agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and FBI and Baltimore Police searched Katz’s family home in Baltimore.
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 Buffalo 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.”