by Randolph T. Holhut
Chief of AR Correspondents
September 8, 2011
9/1+10: A DECADE OF MISSED OPPORTUNITIES
BRADENTON, Fla., Sept. 10, 2011 (Updated 10:03pm ET) -- As most of the nation got ready Saturday to mark the solemn anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, two gunmen with automatic weapons opened fire on 300 people just after midnight at a popular nightclub in Palmetto, Fla. When the shooting stopped, a man and woman were dead and 22 other were hit with a spray of bullets from automatic weapons and a pistol. The attackers vanished into the night.
"I'm not aware of any suspects," a Palmetto police spokesperson told The American Reporter Saturday evening.
The two fatal shooting victims were identified as Trayon Goff, 25, of Palmetto, and Gwenette Matthews, 38, of Bradenton.
Saturday morning, Palmetto police Lt. Scott Taylor said six survivors were flown to Bayfront Medical Center, 18 miles across the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in St. Petersburg, and 16 were taken to Manatee Memorial Hospital, a mile across the Manatee River in Bradenton.
More than 300 people were dancing and lounging inside the nightclub or hanging out in its parking lot when the shootings occurred, news reports said, but it seemed unlikely that more than 100 could be squeezed into the small establishment, which has little parking except in a mall beside it and a small lot out back.
The incident ranks among the worst shooting rampages in American history, but was largely ignored by national media due to the approaching 10th anniversary of the destruction of the World Trade Center towers in 2001.
A police spokesperson could not say whether the shooting began inside or outside; Goff was found lying in the parking lot and Matthews was inside the club. There were no reports of a confrontation before the incident began. Later reports indicated that many of the wounded were hit by bullets that came through the walls of the club, rather than from inside.
[Update, 11:37pm ET 9/11/08 On Sunday evening, a Manatee Memorial Hospital security guard told The American Reporter the last of 16 people admitted to the hospital, almost all with "minor" wounds, was a woman discharged Sunday. What did victims have to say about the motive?
"Payback," he answered. [Update: 12:33am ET 9/13/08]News reports Monday said the woman was still hospitalized in stable condiotion, and two women were in stable and serious condition, respectively, at Bayfront Medical Center.]
Also Sunday, a dreadlocked young black man stocking shelves a few blocks from Club Elite offered the same explanation. "Retaliation," he said, adding that it "was for something that happened a few nights before."]
[Update: 12:33am ET 9/13/08] Police told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune that one victim, Goff, had been involved with his brother in a series of violent incidents dating back to Martin Luther King, Jr., Day in January. They said a shooting Thursday night might have been an immediate foreunner of Saturday's events. Police have still named no suspects, however, and said that while shell casings indicated at least one AK-47 was involved in Saturday's shooting, there was no evidenmce of automatic gunfire.]
By Sunday night, there were still no named suspects, but Palmetto police chief Rick Wells told the local Bradenton Herald active investigations targeted several people and that no motive had been identified. He said at least one weapon used was an AK-47 assault rifle, and that there was no indication at all of gang involvement.
According to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, some witnesses said Taryon Goff was the target. His sister, interviewed by the newspaper, said as she went ont to college and graduated from Florida State, he "made some bad decisions" and "fell into street life." Goff was the father of three, the paper said, including a 5-year-old girl. Gwenette Matthews, it said, was a 38-year-old nurse who was struck by a stray bullet inside the club.
Ironically, the shooting came just days after the Manatee County Commission approved with little discussion a measure on their "consent" agenda - part of the agenda usually adopted unanimously, without debate - that voided county laws restricting the use of firearms in public places like bars, libraries, parks, preserves and city and county buildings.
That move came after the National Rifle Assn. persuaded state legislators to approve $100,000 fines against counties and cities that pass their own gun ordinances, and fines of $5,000 a day for maintaining such laws on their books after a state deadline.
The local laws now will permit licensed guns in all those places and more. The commission, dominated by six Republicans and with just one Democrat, voted unanimously on Sept. 6 to void the local laws. One speaker noted the move was a reversal of the usual fervor for local rule.
In July the County Commission announced they would bulletproof their dais during their month-long vacation. Residents with loaded guns will have to wait in the lobby during city and county board meetings, as they are prohibited inside. One resident in favor of the ordinance announced at a commission meeting in June that he was legally carrying an unloaded pistol, and plans to bulletproof the dais emerged abruptly days later.
Commission chair Carol Whitmore said in her announcement that the work had already been approved in secret and worried aloud that the commission might have violated state open records laws.
Police combed the crime scene at Club Elite, at 704 10th St. West in Palmetto, about 45 minutes south of Tampa and just across the Green Bridge from Bradenton, all day Saturday for clues to the identities of the attackers. They strung dozens of yards of yellow crime scene tape from doors and parking lots and nearby buildings where the gunshots broke windows, shattered glass doors and pierced parked vehicles.
[By Sunday night, the club - the scene of an exorcism service on Sunday morning - was dark and the tape had alll been removed. Two police sawhorses sat out front. ]
The shooting was reminiscent of many attacks in northern Mexico cities including Monterrey, Juarez and Tijuana where attackers associated with drug cartels have opened fire inside nightclubs with automatic weapons, firebombs and grenades, killing many innocent people.
It was not clear whether the two victims, Goff and Matthews, were targeted. Other than at least one automatic rifle and a pistol police said were used by the gunmen, there were no other immediate indications a drug war was involved. Rarely, however, do such vicious assaults occur without preceding or corresponding acts of revenge, whether between drug cartels, gangs or individuals.
It was the third shooting since December 2010 at the bar, which sits at the corner of a major intersection of U.S. 41 and 10th St. W. in Palmetto. In December, a young patron was shot dead in the club's parking lot in a case that was ruled self-defense. A woman shot a bullet into the ceiling of the club in June, police records show.