Monday 14 October 2019

Police search for motive in Florida yoga studio killings

Tallahassee Police Chief Michael DeLeo said some in the studio showed courage and tried to stop him.

Police investigators work the scene of the shooting (Steve Cannon/AP)
Police investigators work the scene of the shooting (Steve Cannon/AP)

By Gary Fineout and Brendan Farrington, Associated Press

Police in Florida have named the gunman who shot two people to death and wounded five others at a yoga studio before turning the gun on himself.

Tallahassee police said Scott Paul Beierle, 40, shot six people and pistol-whipped another after walking into the yoga studio that sits on the second floor of the small shopping plaza.

Tallahassee Police Chief Michael DeLeo said some in the studio showed courage and tried to stop him.

Witnesses who were at the shopping centre described how people who had been in the studio, including one who was bleeding, ran away, seeking shelter in nearby bars and restaurants as shots rang out.

Police responded within a few minutes, but by then Beirele had fatally shot himself, leaving police to search for a motive and a community to wonder what prompted the violence near the city’s fashionable neighbourhoods.

“You don’t think about this in Tallahassee and now you have to,” said Elle Welling, who said she saw at least three people put into ambulances as she was leaving a shop across the street.

The two killed on Friday were a student and faculty member at Florida State University, according to university officials.

The department identified them as Dr Nancy Van Vessem, 61, and Maura Binkley, 21.

Police said two other victims were in a stable condition, and three had been released from the hospital.

Officers at the scene in Florida’s capital (Steve Cannon/AP)

Police said Beierle acted alone but they were still looking into what prompted the shooting.

He had been in the military and was a graduate of nearby Florida State University, but was living in Deltona, a town in central Florida east of Orlando. Authorities in that county were searching his residence there.

Witnesses told police that Beierle posed as a customer to gain entrance to the studio, then started shooting without warning.

During a late night press briefing, Mr DeLeo declined to say what kind of gun he had.

Court records show that he had been previously arrested for grabbing women.

Beierle was charged by police with battery in 2016 after he slapped and grabbed a woman’s buttocks at an apartment complex pool.

Records show that the charges were eventually dismissed after Beierle followed the conditions of a deferred prosecution agreement.

Beierle was also charged with battery in 2012 for grabbing women’s buttocks in a Florida State University campus dining hall.

An FSU police report shows that Beierle told police he may have accidentally bumped into someone, but denied grabbing anyone.

Erskin Wesson, 64, said he was eating dinner with his family at a restaurant below the yoga studio when they heard the gunshots above them.

“We just heard ‘pow, pow, pow, pow’,” Mr Wesson said. “It sounded like a limb falling on a tin roof and rolling.”

The restaurant’s owner came past a short time later, asking if anyone was a doctor, Mr Wesson said. His step-daughter is a nurse and helped paramedics for about an hour, he said.

Melissa Hutchinson said she helped treat a “profusely” bleeding man who rushed into a bar after the incident. She said three people from the studio ran in, and they were told there was an active gunman.

Police at the scene after the shooting in Tallahassee, Florida (Tori Schneider/Tallahassee Democrat/AP)

“It was a shocking moment something happened like this,” Ms Hutchinson said.

The people who came in were injured, including the bleeding man who was pistol-whipped while trying to stop the gunman.

They told her the gunman kept coming in and out of the studio. When he loaded his gun, people started pounding on the studio’s windows to warn people.

Both governor Rick Scott and Tallahassee mayor Andrew Gillum, the Democratic nominee for governor, broke off from the campaign trail to return to Tallahassee.

Mr Scott and Mr Gillum both visited gunshot victims, including one who had been shot nine times.

Mr Gillum asked residents to pray for the survivors and those who were killed.

“We all feel a sense of added vulnerability” because of the shooting, the mayor said.

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