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‘Leave or you can stay here and die': Witnesses describe horror of pool party mass shooting in San Diego

At least five people were shot and injured Sunday when a gunman opened fire near a swimming pool at an apartment complex in University City.

Witnesses described a horrific scene in which a gunman opened fire during a pool party Sunday in San Diego.

The man who opened fire was distraught over a recent break-up and called his ex-girlfriend as he fired round after round at his victims. All of the victims were African American or Latino, police said Sunday. The gunman, Peter Selis, was white.

San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman said there is “zero information to indicate that race played a factor in this terrible and horrific crime,” during a press briefing on Monday morning.

Here are stories from witnesses:

A San Diego police officer stops to question a couple near the area in La Jolla where a gunman is reported to have shot seven victims at an apartment complex.
A San Diego police officer stops to question a couple near the area in La Jolla where a gunman is reported to have shot seven victims at an apartment complex. (Nelvin C. Cepeda / San Diego Union-Tribune)

Demetrius Griffin

‘This is an act of terror, not necessarily an act of terrorism’

Demetrius Griffin, 25, who had traveled from Seattle to San Diego to attend the party, said Selis came to the pool at least 20 minutes before opening fire. He was wearing a jacket, but no bathing suit, and struck some of the party-goers as “eerie,” Griffin told The Times.

“It was really hot outside and he had on kind of a jacket and a T-shirt under the jacket and some cargo shorts. No computer, no book,” Griffin said, adding that Selis “did not say a single word,” even after he started shooting.

Griffin said he was part of a large group of friends who had reunited in San Diego to celebrate the 50th birthday of a man who lived in the apartment complex. The group, some of whom used to play basketball together in San Diego, have hosted barbecues at the pool before, he said.

Selis remained seated in a corner of the pool area, near the exit, until the shooting began, Griffin said. He did not interact with the group until the man who was celebrating his birthday walked past him to grab additional food and drinks from his apartment. The man had a brief conversation with Selis, though it was not clear what was said, according to Griffin.

Seconds later, Selis placed a gun on his lap, Griffin said.

Selis remained seated and twice shot the man who was celebrating his birthday, according to Griffin, before turning his gun on the crowd.

Griffin tried to run, but said the shock of the gunfire left him stuck in place.

“I kind of froze, because I didn’t believe it was real,” Griffin said.

When he started to flee seconds later, Griffin said he noticed a woman who had been shot in the legs screaming for help. He took his shirt off and wrapped it around her wounds in an attempt to stop the blood, soaking his clothes in crimson.

Griffin declined to talk about the woman who was killed out of concern for her privacy. The man whose birthday was being celebrated has undergone two surgeries since Sunday night and remains in stable condition, according to Griffin, who was on his way to visit him at the hospital Monday afternoon.

Today is the man’s actual birthday, Griffin said.

Selis did not utter any racial epithets during the attack. He didn’t say anything at all, according to Griffin, who said there will be no way to really know what drove the man to open fire.

“What I am gonna say is, this is an act of terror, not necessarily an act of terrorism.”

A unidentified woman is taken away by ambulance near the area where a gunman shot seven victims at a complex in University City.
A unidentified woman is taken away by ambulance near the area where a gunman shot seven victims at a complex in University City. (Nelvin C. Cepeda / San Diego Union-Tribune)

DREW PHILLIPS

‘It’s just pow, pow, pow, pow — out of nowhere’

Partygoer Drew Phillips told the San Diego Union-Tribune that Selis appeared calm before the attack. Phillips’ friend who was celebrating his birthday had approached Selis and offered him food just a few minutes before the gunfire erupted.

“Six or seven minutes later it’s just pow, pow, pow, pow — out of nowhere,” Phillips said. “...There was no indication that he was there to do evil.”

Everyone scattered, including a man who fell and broke his arm. Witnesses said there were about 30 people at the pool. At least one of the partygoers lived at the complex.

“He was just laying there, and just the look in his eyes — sheer terror,” Phillips said. “I threw my phone down. I just picked him up and I just carried him. I basically ran as fast as I could with him in my arms.”

A crowd gathers at Golden Haven Drive and Judicial Drive in University City after a gunman shot seven victims at the La Jolla Crossroads Apartment complex.
A crowd gathers at Golden Haven Drive and Judicial Drive in University City after a gunman shot seven victims at the La Jolla Crossroads Apartment complex. (Nelvin C. Cepeda / San Diego Union-Tribune)

Kaela Wong

‘You can either leave or you can stay here and die’

Two UC San Diego students who were in a nearby hot tub were too scared to bolt, but then slowly made their way to a wall. One of the students, 20-year-old UC San Diego student Kaela Wong, said she heard Selis threaten women trying to help a victim.

“You can either leave or you can stay here and die,” Wong said she heard Selis say.

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