TAMPA — The suspect arrested in Sunday’s Ybor City shooting that killed two and left 15 others wounded by gunfire told police he fired because he feared for his safety, court records show.
Tyrell Phillips, 22, was arrested on a charge of second-degree murder with a firearm hours after the shooting that resulted in the death of a 14-year-old boy and a 20-year-old man and injured 15 others. Police said one additional person was injured but not by gunfire.
On Monday, the Hillsborough County State Attorney’s Office filed a motion asking a judge to order Phillips be held until his trial because of the nature of the allegations and, according to the motion, there are no conditions for pretrial release “sufficient to protect the community.”
During Phillips’ first appearance in court on Monday, Judge Caroline Tesche Arkin ordered Phillips to remain in jail until a hearing on the motion set for Thursday at 2:30 p.m.
Phillips as of Monday had been arrested on one count of second-degree murder. Police have not released the names of any victims because of Marsy’s Law, and the pretrial detention motion does not include the name or the age of the victim in Phillips’ case. But the motion states the victim died at the scene of the shooting, and a police spokesperson confirmed to the Times on Monday that the 14-year-old boy died at scene and the 20-year-old man died at the hospital.
The teen’s family has identified the boy as Elijah Wilson.
According to the motion and an arrest affidavit, Phillips told police that he got in a confrontation with another group of people and that he opened fire because a man in the group reached for his waistband. But the person Phillips fatally shot did not appear to reach for or pull a gun before Phillips opened fire, according to video reviewed by police.
Police did find a loaded gun on Wilson but the weapon was still holstered, according to the motion.
The shooting happened about 2:47 a.m. on the 1600 block of East Seventh Avenue as the entertainment district was packed with revelers, many in Halloween costumes. Police who heard several shots arrived to find one victim lying in a pool of his own blood in the middle of Seventh Avenue, the motion states.
While officers were helping other victims injured at the scene, Phillips approached the officers and admitted to firing a gun, the motion states. Police later found a loaded Glock 29 10mm pistol in his front waist pocket.
Phillips told police he was in Ybor with friends when he saw a former classmate and waved at her. Afterward, Phillips said, several men approached him in an “aggressive manner.”
One person took a “fighting stance,” and a second spat at him. Phillips said a third man made a reaching movement toward his waistband that caused Phillips to fear he had a gun, but the affidavit and motion for detention note that he mentioned this only after detectives asked if anyone had a weapon.
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Phillips told police he feared for his safety when he fired about two rounds at the men, without specifically targeting any of them.
Police later found three spent 10mm shell casings at the scene near Wilson’s body. The motion states that he “was found to have a loaded firearm concealed at his waistline, but the firearm was still fully encased inside its holster.”
After interviewing Phillips, detectives gathered footage from the shooting.
Police showed the footage to Phillips, who identified himself. Phillips also identified several unknown men who acted aggressively toward him, the motion states, “including the one who spat at him, which is the victim, and the one who (Phillips) believed had a firearm concealed in his waistband, which is not the victim.”
Footage shows the victim with his hands raised and with no firearm in his hand shortly before the shooting, according to the court documents.
“As the victim then lowers his hands back down, the defendant, in turn, draws and discharges his concealed firearm, despite the victim being more than an arm’s length away from the defendant,” the motion states.
When the shooting occurred, Wilson was standing several feet away from the man who Phillips said appeared to be reaching for a gun, the motion states.
“At no point prior to the shooting is the victim depicted pulling out a firearm or other weapon,” the motion states.
Phillips later told police that the victim in his case did not reach for his waistband for a weapon.
One of the two handguns recovered by police was stolen, according to Tampa police Chief Lee Bercaw. Asked if the event was gang-related, or if police were still looking for additional suspects, Bercaw said on Sunday that was part of the ongoing investigation.
Jail records list Phillips as a machine operator for Coca Cola, but his social media pages show he is also an aspiring rapper who goes by the name TBY Rell. His lyrics often reference guns and acts of violence, and his music videos show him brandishing firearms.
“Leavin’ no surprises, we all about the violence, runnin’ from the sirens, we get caught, then we lyin’,” he raps in a song called “Demon Time.” “Murder where my mind is, ain’t killin’ them with kindness.”
State records show Phillips has one previous arrest in Florida. In 2020, he was arrested in Hillsborough on charges of marijuana possession and driving under the influence. Records show he pleaded guilty to the drug charge and to a reduced charge of reckless driving and was sentenced to time served.
More than 50 officers were in the area at the time of the shooting, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said on social media on Sunday, but the incident quickly turned into “a senseless loss of life by those choosing to settle a dispute with firearms.”
Castor stressed at an afternoon news conference that Tampa was “one of the safest cities of its size in the nation,” but that gun law changes were necessary to prevent more incidents like this.
“We cannot come back to the microphones day after day and give our sincere condolences to the victims of gun violence,” she said. “We as a country have to make decisions. A vast majority of Americans support reasonable firearm solutions and support reasonable regulations.”
Times staffer Sharon Kennedy Wynne contributed to this report.