HOLIDAY — An aspiring rapper and DJ performing for a teenage girl's birthday party at a west Pasco American Legion Hall was killed in the restroom Friday night, sheriff's officials said.
Sheriff's spokesman Kevin Doll identified the victim as Shamir Garnelo, 21, of Plant City, and said the case is being investigated as a homicide.
Deputies were called to the American Legion Hall at 1750 Arcadia Road, at 1:46 a.m. Saturday. The building is a rental facility for Post 173, which meets formally at facilities on Bartelt Road in Holiday.
Residents near the Legion Hall said the party started Friday night and was attended by hundreds of young adults. The cover charge was reportedly $5, $2 if in costume.
Deputies did not release the cause of Garnelo's death, but family members said the young man had been stabbed.
Yahzeel Garnelo, Garnelo's 18-year-old cousin, said people who were at the party told family members it was a case of mistaken identity.
"From what I heard, before he performed, he went to the bathroom. They told me that four guys went in and stabbed him," Yahzeel Garnelo said. "They confused him with someone else."
The smooth-faced youth, who struck a tough guy pose for his driver's license photo, had no criminal record in Florida, according to state files.
On Garnelo's MySpace page, he identified himself as "Briyante" and "DJ Nelo." The former church musician last logged in on Friday and described his mood as "blessed."
Garnelo was born in Mexico and moved to Plant City when he was 9, his uncle said. He graduated from Simmons Career Center. He was the youngest of five children and raised by his grandmother, who was released from a hospital earlier this week after having brain surgery.
She doesn't know about his death.
"We don't know how to tell her," said Esau Garnelo, Garnelo's uncle. "Right now we're looking for answers. We don't want this to happen to anybody else."
Nora DelAngel and her husband, Leo, came by Garnelo's Bates Street house to comfort his family Saturday, but no one was home. "We're just heartbroken for the family," said Nora DelAngel.
She and her husband said they are youth leaders at Fountain of Life Church in Plant City, which Garnelo attended. For a few years, he played drums in a church band. Garnelo was not the type to have enemies or get in fights, they said.
Leo DelAngel said Garnelo hugged him at church.
"He was always very friendly to everybody," said Nora DelAngel.
Jerry Clark, 83, the commander of Post 173, said the American Legion rents the building for about $150 per day. The group does not provide supervision or security services, he said. Those are up to the renter.
"If it's rented for a birthday party, you'd think it would be supervised," he said.
Clark lives within a block of the building and didn't hear anything suspicious during the night.
Saturday, he had spoken to some of the Post's 660 members who were shocked at the death.
"They're just wondering why it happened," he said.
Anyone who may have any information about this case is asked to contact Detective James Gariepy toll-free at 1-800-854-2862, extension 7279.
Bay News 9 reporter Melanie Snow contributed to this report.