Florida shooting leaves two dead, 16 injured during Halloween celebrations

Halloween Weekend-Shootings (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)
Halloween Weekend-Shootings (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

When the bars had closed for the night on early Sunday morning in Tampa's Ybor City neighbourhood, hundreds of costumed revellers spilled out onto the streets, many hoping to squeeze a little more celebration out of the holiday weekend.

Their hopes were dashed when the cracking report of gunfire erupted, introducing a very real element of terror to the Halloween celebration. The sudden violence transformed the jovial crowd into a panicked stampede; some partygoers attempted to run as others flipped tables and ducked behind anything solid enough to stop a bullet.

Somewhere on the street two groups had been arguing, and that argument escalated into a shooting. By the time the gunfire stopped, two individuals — a 14-year-old and a 22-year-old, both males — were dead and another 16 were injured.

Later video showed the scattered remnants of costumes and the bodies of those injured lying on the pavement. Police worked to stabilise the wounded while awaiting medical assistance.

According to the Tampa Police, at least two people fired into the crowd.

As of Monday, all 15 of the mass shooting victims who survived the initial attack were being treated for serious injuries but were expected to survive. One other victim sustained other serious injuries.

The city's police knew there would be large groups gathered for the weekend celebration and made sure to step up patrols in areas likely to see sizable crowds, like Ybor City. According to Mayor Jane Castor, more than 50 police officers were in the immediate area of the shooting and were able to respond to the gunfire within moments.

The suspect

Tyrell Phillips, 22, is accused of killing two and injuring 16 others in a mass shooting in Tampa, Florida, on 29 October (screengrab/Tampa Police Department)
Tyrell Phillips, 22, is accused of killing two and injuring 16 others in a mass shooting in Tampa, Florida, on 29 October (screengrab/Tampa Police Department)

It is also likely that increased police presence allowed officers to quickly apprehend 22-year-old suspect Tyrell Phillips.

Mr Phillips allegedly lied to police about his alleged involvement in the shooting, according to Tampa's Police Chief Lee Bercaw.

Witness accounts and video of the attack taken by bystanders helped police to place Mr Phillips as the suspected gunman. He is now facing a second-degree murder charge.

Mr Phillips made his first court appearance on Monday, where he was denied bond.

According to Mr Bercaw, Mr Phillips allegedly got into an argument with another individual who was out that evening and began shooting.

“It was a disturbance or a fight between two groups. And in this fight between two groups we had hundreds of innocent people involved that were in the way,” Mr Bercaw said.

Frustration and loss

Ms Castor — who served as the city's police chief before she took over as mayor — said that the shooting was not an outgrowth of problems in the city, but rather the result of a nation flush with guns and irresponsible firearm owners.

"If you look at the overall crime rate in Ybor City it is very, very low. It's just unfortunate that these late night, early morning incidents are occurring where you have disputes that in the past may have been settled in a verbal argument and at the very worst, a physical fight," she said, according to Fox13. "And now people aren't hesitating to pull out guns and shoot and not only kill innocent individuals, but hurt bystanders,"

She called on gun owners to take precautions and lock up their weapons and ensure they don't fall into the hands of criminals.

Emmitt Wilson is experiencing first-hand the pain that can be wrought by gun violence; his son was the 14-year-old killed in the shooting.

He was still reeling from the loss when he spoke to BayNews9 about the death of his teenage son.

“It’s painful to see your child lying there,” Wilson said on Sunday. “And there’s nothing I can do but stand behind the yellow tape and just watch them take his body away. I can’t go see him, this is my last time seeing him," he said. “You never expect this to happen. It was multiple people shot and he happened to be one of the unfortunate to take this. I have to take this loss right now.”

He said his son was a good kid who occasionally hung out with the wrong crowd.