Blair Stokes, a senior at Florida State University, was cramming for a class project at the campus library early Thursday morning when another student told her a gunman was shooting people on the library’s first floor.
Within minutes, Stokes and hundreds of other students in Strozier Library were ordered to stay put under a mandatory lockdown as police confronted the gunman, who shot and wounded three people before he was killed by heavily armed officers.
Stokes sent a group text to friends and family: “I love you all.” Then she texted her best friend: “I’m scared.”
The gunman, identified by police as Myron May, 31, a lawyer and former Florida State student, fired a shot at police officers after ignoring commands to drop his weapon, Tallahassee Police Chief Michael DeLeo told reporters. At a later news conference, he said he was not certain whether May fired at police. Police fired on May “and the suspect was killed,” DeLeo said, adding that the shooter acted alone.
Armed with a .380-caliber handgun, his pockets stuffed with ammunition, the gunman shot a library employee inside the lobby, police said. Just outside the library entrance, he shot two students.
One victim was in critical condition at a hospital and another was listed in good condition, the Associated Press reported. One person was treated and released.
May feared he was being targeted by the government, according to police. Investigators have recovered a journal and several pre-recorded videos in which May “expressed fears of being targeted, and he wanted to bring attention to this issue of being targeted,” DeLeo said.
The chief described May as “in a state of crisis.”
On a Facebook page by a man that appeared to be May, a Nov. 15 post read: “IS OUR GOVERNMENT VIOLATING ORDINARY CITIZENS’ RIGHTS? UNFORTUNATELY, THE ANSWER IS YES!”
The gunman parked his car, walked into the library, and began shooting people at random, according to police. At least 30 shots were fired by the gunman and police, DeLeo said.
The shootings, at about 12:25 a.m., shattered the late-night calm on the sprawling campus as 450 to 500 students inside the library waited anxiously for updates from a campus public address system. Some students barricaded themselves behind desks.
“I was shaking the whole time,” said Stokes, 22, who began tweeting after noticing that there was no news of the shooting on Twitter. Her first tweet: “Guy at library with gun.”
She said she and at least 30 other students were on lockdown on the fourth floor of the library annex, where students tried to lock all stairwell doors.
Police said the gunman was prevented from entering the interior of the library by security barriers designed to allow only students and staff to enter. Stokes, who had worked as an editor on the campus newspaper, sent a text to her best friend, Setareh Baig, editor of the FSView & Florida Flambeau student paper. The text woke Baig, who was torn between rushing to help her friend and directing breaking news coverage.
“My first reaction was not as an editor, but as a friend,” Baig said. She said she stayed up all night at her apartment near campus, posting updates and directing coverage.
Jason Derfuss, 21, a senior, said he was walking out of the library’s front entrance when he heard a gunshot, saw a muzzle flash and watched a student collapse. Derfuss ran to safety, discovering three hours later that books in his backpack had stopped a bullet, he told the Tallahassee Democrat.
Derfuss posted photos on his Facebook page showing two hardcover books that appeared to have been pierced by a gunshot. In the post, Derfuss wrote that he was about five feet from the gunman but did not realize that a shot had struck his backpack.
Derfuss said the gunman didn’t utter a word. “The student who was shot … just gave out and crumpled to the ground,” he said.
“I was terrified, and there was nothing else in my mind but survive, survive, survive,” Derfuss told the newspaper.
Local police had little contact with May before the shootings, said campus police chief David Perry. As a student at FSU in May 2002, May was detained on suspicion of marijuana possession. He recently moved back to Florida from Texas, police said.
May, who was studying for the Florida bar exam, had previously worked as a public defender and associate trial attorney in Las Cruces, N.M., according to a statement issued by Mark D'Antonio, district attorney for the state's third district. May “abruptly resigned his position” on Oct. 6, he said.
“I have greatly enjoyed my tenure here. I feel that I have learned a lot and grown professionally,” May wrote in his resignation letter, which the district attorney's office made public Thursday. “Thank you for understanding my decision to leave the office.”
DeLeo said police did not know why May chose to attack the campus, but he emphasized that the suspect had no current university connection. May was licensed to practice law in Texas and New Mexico.
The Taunton Family Children’s Home in Wewahitchka, Fla., about 80 miles from Florida State, described May on its Facebook page as an “accomplished attorney” and a “longtime friend” of the group who ran cross-country with many of the boys who lived there and was a regular visitor as a teenager.
“No one who knew him would’ve dreamed this was possible even though he was having some financial issues and seemed a little down,” the statement read.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott, speaking near the campus in Tallahassee, praised the police response and said “we still have a lot of questions that are unanswered.”
University classes were canceled Thursday. Scott urged students to call their parents, faith leaders, or grief counselors provided by the university.
Within minutes of Stokes’ tweets from inside the library, social media was inundated with updates on the shootings, some of them incorrect. Stokes said one tweet described shootings elsewhere on campus.
Less than 30 minutes after the first reports of shots fired, Stokes said, an announcement over the public address system said the gunman had been “caught.” She said she continued to send out tweets and texts until police arrived and told students to put up their hands as a safety precaution.
Stokes stopped tweeting. “Can’t tweet with your hands raised,” she said.