Sunday, April 22, 2018
Education

FSU shooting victim recounts events that shattered a campus

TALLAHASSEE — The first bullet hit Elijah Velez's bicycle.

It was just before 12:30 a.m. Thursday and the Florida State University freshman was at the library finishing up an English project. He stepped outside into the freezing night to get his bike.

That's when he spotted the gunman.

"He attacked the two people who were standing in front of me, and after that, he went toward me," Velez recalled.

In an exclusive interview with the Times/Herald, Velez recounted the harrowing minutes when he came face to face with Myron May, the 31-year-old man who went on a shooting rampage Thursday at FSU before being shot dead by police.

Velez, an 18-year-old from Miramar, was one of two shooting victims identified on Friday by authorities. The other, 21-year-old Farhan Ahmed, was in critical condition at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital. A third victim, Nathan Scott, a 30-year-old library employee, was identified Thursday and is at Tallahassee Memorial in good condition.

When Velez noticed May, the gunman opened fire. The first bullet bounced off Velez's bike and sent him to the ground. A second shot came closer, grazing his side near the front of his stomach.

Velez immediately got on his bike. He didn't realized he'd been struck. Instinctively, he took a quick look behind him.

"All I saw was that when everyone was running out of the library, (the gunman) sat down on the bench and was waiting," he said.

With students streaming out of the library and scattering around him, Velez pedaled back to his dorm. He found his resident adviser and a police officer.

The biochemistry major wasn't feeling much physical pain Friday, he said in a cellphone interview from the bus he boarded to go home for Thanksgiving.

Velez said he has no intention of transferring schools but is finding it tough to process what happened.

"I just try not to think about it, or replay anything in my mind," he said.

More disturbing details emerged about the gunman's mental state Friday. Hours before opening fire, May — an FSU alumnus who became a respected lawyer — mailed at least 10 packages to acquaintances he hoped would expose what he believed was a conspiracy against him.

One package was sent to Houston and was secured by federal investigators Friday morning, FBI Special Agent Shauna Dunlap told the Times/Herald.

Dunlap said the package did not contain a "hazardous threat to the public," but declined to say whether it was sent to a residential or business address.

It's not clear who May intended to receive the packages, but several people were warned to expect something in the mail.

Joe Paul of Alexandria, Va., told media outlets Friday that he was called by a postal inspector who alerted him that he had received a package. He said he wasn't told what was inside except that it wasn't dangerous.

Paul told CNN that May had asked him and eight others for their mailing addresses in a Nov. 15 Facebook message.

"On Wednesday at 9:53 (p.m.), he said y'all should receive your packages Friday. Then I went to sleep and woke up to tragedy."

Law enforcement officials told Abigail Taunton to be on the lookout for any packages arriving by mail in the next few days, her daughter, Diana Taunton, 34, told the Times/Herald.

"She was told that if we get any package, report it immediately to the authorities," Taunton said at noon on Friday. "But so far, we haven't received anything."

The Taunton family knew May as a teenager and allowed him to stay at their guest house in Wewahitchka when May recently returned to Florida from Texas.

NBC reported that just hours before he opened fire, May left a desperate voicemail for an acquaintance with this plea: "I do not want to die in vain."

In its report, NBC said that Renee Pittman Mitchell, who has a blog devoted to government conspiracy claims, said May had reached out to her through Facebook about a week ago.

"He told me he just didn't want to go on living like this," Mitchell told NBC.

Said May in one of the messages, which was authenticated by a relative as May's voice. "I do not want to die in vain."

Investigators were also sifting through evidence at the library, where a barrage of 30 rounds were rounded up Thursday for ballistics testing.

Leon County State Attorney Willie Meggs said Friday that all three victims had been shot by the time police arrived. FSU police Chief David Perry also said there is "no evidence'' that any of the victims were shot by officers.

Meggs said his office will conduct a grand jury investigation of the shooting — as it does with all police shootings — in about a month. Meggs said the shooting appears to be justified.

"(The police) were being shot at and they returned fire," Meggs said.

Times/Herald staff writers Michael Van Sickler, Steve Bousquet and Zachary T. Sampson contributed to this report.

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